Archives for posts with tag: homeless

I am really taken with this Dasani.  Watch her best the New York Times interviewer in this minute and a half video.

Dasani is the subject of this five part series Invisible Child:  Dasani’s Homeless Life.  It tells the story of one young girl whose family lives in a NYC homeless shelter.

girl in the shadows




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.

There are 22,000 homeless children in New York City.  Advocates for the homeless call these children the ‘lost generation’.


This is one of many facts and bits of information Andrea Elliot shares with her New York Times readers.  But if you read Invisible Child:  Dasani’s Homeless Life more than facts and information emerges.

I felt as if I had met 12 year old Dasani, her teacher Miss Hester, the harassing security guards.   I had become part of Dasani’s closed system world she finds herself shuttling back and forth the two blocks in Brooklyn from Auburn Family Residence to Susan S. McKinney Secondary School of the Arts.  p2-povB-1_1024

“Adults who are homeless often speak of feeling ‘stuck.’ For children, the experience is more like a free-fall. With each passing month, they slip further back in every category known to predict long-term well-being. They are less likely to graduate from the schools that anchor them, and more likely to end up like their parents, their lives circumscribed by teenage pregnancy or shortened by crime and illness.”

But there’s hope.  Dasani has found a teacher that “makes Dasani want to learn”.

Invisible Child is the urban homeless story in grand opera.  Beautifully sung.

I am in Indianapolis tonight.

This morning, the Center City Corps with Pastor Loretta in charge.  Men and women from the streets of Indianapolis.  Mothers and children from the Salvation Army’s programs next door in the shelter, Carpenter House and Barton House.  A husband and wife, business professionals, who walk to the corps from just a few blocks away. 

The chapel is not large, cluttered, in a building that long ago saw better days as a place for traditional Salvation Army worship and life.  Life that was part of a time and place which no longer exists in America. 

But this morning, crowded with people who come to meet with one another and with God who opens his hand and satisfiest the desire of every living thing. 

Pastor Loretta leads the service.  She knows who to call on to share their testimony.  An old man with a walker who has just given up not only whiskey and beer, but cigarettes as well.  He says the Lord whupped him.

A woman, younger, bright eyed.  She returned this morning.  Three years now both she and her husband have been clean of drugs.  She testifies to God’s grace, helping them.  She is grateful.  Her bright eyes  suddenly brim with tears and her lips tremble as she says this.

At the end of the meeting a man steps up to pass me a slip of paper.  Tomorrow he is entering the Army’s Adult Rehabilitation Center here in Indy for treatment of his alcoholism.  He’s been told that he won’t have access to a phone for some time.  He’s heard that I’m from Chicago.  He asks me to contact his mother who lives on the southside.  I have a name and a phone number.  He wants her to know he’s okay.

Another man is waiting to talk to me.  He shares his concern about the future of the Center City Corps and Pastor Loretta. 

Another man.  He thanks me for the sermon and talks about his struggle and day by day dealing with alcoholism and being bipolar.  He is grateful for each day and the grace he receives from the God who hears his pleas.

The eyes of all wait upon thee and thou openest thy hand in due season.   Amen.

My head is yet full of images from traveling this week: homeless men, women, and children at the Salvation Army.

I returned home Thursday evening after three days of winter driving (with spin outs and box springs in the road ahead of us) across central Illinois with Majors Evie Diaz and David Gorton. They serve respectively as Divisional Commander and Divisional Secretary for the Heartland Division, an appropriately identified geographical place and emotional construct. Rural, farm filled, the Mississippi River. Solidly American.

The homeless challenge our preconceived images of the Heartland. At Kankakee, Champaign-Urbana, Springfield, Decatur, Pekin and Peoria they go to the Salvation Army to find warmth, a place to sleep, food. This week it is very cold in the Midwest and the Army figures large in survival. But now as at other times the Army is also a home. Where mail addressed to a homeless person can be delivered. Where someone knows your name. Where a person can find warmth physically, and emotionally.

Social Services staff in Peoria mentioned how returning men present their worn numbered tickets received long ago from staff for a stay at the overnight shelter. The ticket is one certain tangible thing in the homeless life which means that a place exists with an open door.

In spite of Depression era memories of hobos riding freight trains across America, these days homeless people are usually considered an urban image. Perhaps homelessness resonates with the fear of urban places as isolating, anonymous, of becoming lost in the vast spaces and busy crowds of cities.

If we provide a place with an open door, can that door lead to something beyond bed and bread? An open door is opportunity, and in most of the Salvation Army corps visited this week I heard stories of offering opportunity to men and women for life beyond homelessness.

In Springfield, Majors Paul and Barb Logan shared stories of their corps where on Sunday morning several formerly homeless men and women return to take their place in worship.

Major Barb says there is a truck driver who when passing Springfield on a Sunday will take time to pull up to their building on Sixth Street to attend the morning meetings. To join the family. He now has a home, a job, and he joins his family whenever traveling through central Illinois.

Jesus told us that he came into the world so that we would have the opportunity for full, abundant life (John 10:10). That we should not have to perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

If we are truly serving, we are leading men, women, and young people into a life which is full and abundant. The test of whether we are doing so is when the truck pulls up, the driver steps out, and we know him. And he knows he always has a place.

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