Dasani, the 12-year-old subject of the Times series on homelessness and the broken shelter system, “Invisible Child,” became the public face of the crisis, but she’s far from alone. Still, her heartbreaking story has resulted in action for more than just her family: Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to transfer more than 400 children and their parents from two of the worst shelters, including Brooklyn’s Auburn Family Residence, where Dasani spent three years in squalid, cramped conditions, and Manhattan’s Catherine Street shelter.
Times reporter Andrea Elliot, who worked for more than a year on “Invisible Child” and is expanding it into a book, writes today, with Rebecca Ruiz:
For nearly three decades, thousands of children passed through Auburn and Catherine Street, living with cockroaches, spoiled food, violence and insufficient heat, even as inspectors warned that the shelters were unfit for children.
State and city inspectors have cited Auburn for over 400 violations — many of them repeated — for a range of hazards, including vermin, mold, lead exposure, an inoperable fire safety system, insufficient child care and the presence of sexual predators, among them, a caseworker.
“We just weren’t going to allow this to happen on our watch,” the mayor said.
It’s a small dent in a city that counts 22,000 homeless children and rising, but those in the worst situations will be moved to either more hospitable shelters or subsidized permanent housing, the Times reports. “Until today, no mayor was willing to say no children should be treated this way, and that’s a historic breakthrough,” said Steven Banks of the Legal Aid Society.
“There are major American cities that have the same population as we have people in shelter,” said Mayor de Blasio, pointing toward his plan for preventive measures. “We have to look this in the face. This is literally an unacceptable dynamic, and we have to reverse it.”