Poverty in America

The New York Times’s 22,000-word piece about Dasani, an 11-year-old who is part of an “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” has been making the rounds on the internet, and yes, it is most definitely worth reading.

The story focuses on New York, but of course, there are stories about people living below the poverty line all across the country. Here are more stories as documented by a filmmaker from North Carolina earlier this year:

And another by Frontline last year called “Poor Kids,” which looked at poor children living in cities across the U.S. (also highly recommended).

Also relevant is this post at Gothamist in which a reader asks whether he or she should give money to people begging on the street. The answer is detailed, and a good one. Here is one part of it:

Just last month, Ian Frazier wrote a great article in the New Yorker about this topic. It’s worth the half-hour it will take you to read it, but if you don’t have time, it makes a convincing argument that we should pivot away from the Bloomberg Administration’s homeless policy, which seems to involve shuttling homeless families around the city on an exhausting hunt for shelter, to providing more stable, longer-term housing for each of these 12,000+ families until they get back on their feet. This would involve giving them priority access to NYCHA housing, making it easier for them to qualify for temporary rent subsidies, and generally allowing them to qualify for benefits without having to frequently report to inconvenient locations to re-qualify.

The current administration has opposed these ideas because they feel that they’d create a “moral hazard”: that people would fake homelessness to jump the waiting list for cheap housing. That argument seems unconvincing, but even if a few cheaters used homeless policy to get benefits they don’t deserve, this seems like a worthwhile price to pay for getting blameless children into stable housing faster than they do now.

The easiest way for you to support these policy changes is to give money to the Coalition for the Homeless, which has been nudging and suing the city to move towards these policies for many years. Consider monthly giving, which is a helpful way to make sure you don’t forget to give, and to give them a more stable financial base from which to fight on behalf of the homeless. You can also write to the incoming administration to let them know that you feel reducing homelessness is a priority, and give money to progressive candidates at the state and federal level, because many programs that help homeless families (and families at risk for homelessness) are funded and controlled by those parts of government.

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