One in five American children is now living in poverty, giving the United States the highest child poverty rate of any developed nation except for Romania.  p1-povK-1_1024

On the way home this evening Gail and I talked about Andrea Elliot’s NY Times feature Invisible Child:  Dasani’s Homeless Life.  I recognize Dasani.  Not the Dasani who lives in Auburn Family Residence, the NYC run homeless shelter in Brooklyn.  But Dasanis who I have known in Chicago and Detroit.  By now they are grown up.

The ranks of the poor have risen, with almost half of New Yorkers living near or below the poverty line. Their traditional anchors — affordable housing and jobs that pay a living wage — have weakened as the city reorders itself around the whims of the wealthy.

Last night I sent the link for Elliot’s story to Gail.  Who passed it on to Sara Johnson, recently moved to St Louis from Detroit.  Sara has moved here to help get started what we hope will become the first Salvation Army center for urban mission in North America.  Sara sent the NY Times link to several young adults studying and living in Temple Houses on Arsenal Street, a Salvation Army missional community in south St Louis.  They are Sara’s neighbors.

Dasani is among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belongs to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America.

I recognize in Dasani the same too soon grown old I saw in young Chicagoans and Detroiters.

a child whose existence is defined by her siblings. Her small scrub-worn hands are always tying shoelaces or doling out peanut butter sandwiches, taking the ends of the loaf for herself. The bond is inescapable. In the presence of her brothers and sisters, Dasani has no peace. Without them, she is incomplete.

As a Salvation Army corps officer in inner city neighborhoods I watched young people watch out for their brothers and sisters.   At meal tables and snack times.  Making sure that they did not miss getting served.  Young deacons and deaconesses.  Holding hands and guiding them across Ogden Avenue.  Grand River Avenue.  Crossing guards.

It is still September when Dasani’s temper lands her in the principal’s office.

“Please don’t call my mother,” Dasani whispers.

Miss Holmes is seated in a rolling pleather chair held together by duct tape. She stares at the anguished girl. She has been at McKinney long enough to know when a child’s transgressions at school might bring a beating at home.

The principal slowly scoots her chair up to Dasani and leans within inches of her face.

“O.K.,” she says softly. “Let’s make a deal.”

From that day forward, Dasani will be on her best behavior. In turn, Miss Holmes will keep what happens at school in school.

With that, she waves Dasani off, fighting the urge to smile. She can’t help but like this feisty little girl.

Gail and I left Chicago’s west side 21 years ago.  Detroit 9 years ago.  We can’t help but remember their Dasanis.

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