A recent New York Times investigation into a decrepit homeless shelter in Brooklyn’s gentrifying Fort Greene neighborhood offered a vivid illustration of Bill de Blasio’s “tale of two cities” campaign leitmotif. Now, the family at the story’s center is attaining a similar symbolic status in the mayor-elect’s transition into office. After invoking the story’s titular “Invisible Child” — identified only by her first name, Dasani — at the appointment of a deputy mayor earlier this month, De Blasio has invited the girl’s mother, Chanel, to attend Wednesday’s inauguration festivities, his transition team confirmed.
The five-part Times series doubled as an indictment of the shelter-reform policies and bootstrap ideology of outgoing mayor (and De Blasio foil) Michael Bloomberg. Responding to “Invisible Child,” Bloomberg called Dasani’s situation “atypical.” “This kid was dealt a bad hand,” he told reporters. “I don’t know quite why. That’s just the way God works. Sometimes some of us are lucky and some of us are not.” Bloomberg added that his office has done more for those in need than any other administration in any other city, and that as a result, the poor and homeless are better off in New York City than anywhere else.
But Chanel and Dasani’s tale may also be one of two mayors, according to Steven Banks, the head of the Legal Aid Society, which represents the city’s homeless population. In 2004, Bloomberg ended a long-standing program that gave homeless families priority access to subsidized housing, and, later, the time-limited rental-assistance program that replaced it. “It was a shocking reversal from the policies that three mayors with very different approaches — Koch, Dinkins and Giuliani — embraced,” said Banks. Combined with the 2008 economic downturn, these changes, he believes, “led directly to the explosion in the shelter system.”
Earlier this month, De Blasio said: “We’re not going to let down Dasani or any young woman or any young man like her. It’s our job to do better for them.”