Inside a Fort Greene Homeless Shelter

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In a five-part series, The New York Times followed an 11-year-old girl living with six siblings and her parents in a homeless shelter in Fort Greene. The story contrasts the appalling conditions at the Auburn Family Residence at 39 Auburn Place — it has made headlines for years for having no heat and other problems — with the changes in the surrounding neighborhood. Mice dart in and out of a crumbling wall. A hair dryer warms the baby’s crib.

“City and state inspectors have repeatedly cited the shelter for deplorable conditions, including sexual misconduct by staff members, spoiled food, asbestos exposure, lead paint and vermin,” said the Times. “Auburn has no certificate of occupancy, as required by law, and lacks an operational plan that meets state regulations. Most of the shelter’s smoke detectors and alarms have been found to be inoperable.” Click through to the story for photos reminiscent of Jacob Riis’ “How the Other Half Lives.”

Outside, “the skyline soars with luxury towers, beacons of a new gilded age. More than 200 miles of fresh bike lanes connect commuters to high-tech jobs, passing through upgraded parks and avant-garde projects like the High Line and Jane’s Carousel. Posh retail has spread from its Manhattan roots to the city’s other boroughs. These are the crown jewels of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s long reign…as the city reorders itself around the whims of the wealthy.”

The parents are unemployed and have had problems with drug addiction, while the number of families living in homeless shelters has grown since a 2004 Bloomberg policy that no longer gives homeless priority for public housing.

More than 22,000 children are homeless in New York City, “the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America,” said the story. “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.”

The family is trying to save money to move to Pennsylvania. When asked why families are staying longer in the shelter system, Bloomberg said it was because they offer “a much more pleasurable experience than they ever had before.”

Invisible Child [NY Times]
Photo by Scott Scott Bintner for PropertyShark

14 Comment

  • wasder

    Cate–great article to link to but why is there a picture of the 88th Precinct house here?

  • daveinbedstuy

    And this place is run by the City???? Despicable.

  • I thought one of the most moving parts of the story was the description of how the school reaches out, protecting the child’s privacy, making sure she eats her lunch, and so forth. And the fact that both her middle school and her elementary school are co-located with charters with far more resources, forcing these schools (ps 67, Susan McKinney) that serve the most vulnerable children to do more with less.

    • the charter is not forcing these schools to do more with less.

      i don’t dispute that charters often have better resources than other public schools (they’re often backed by big money,) but if a charter weren’t co-located there, another school would be. and charters serve the same population that these schools serve. unfortunately, there just aren’t enough seats at the charters to accommodate all the kids who would benefit from them. but if there were more charters, then more kids benefit, right? because the big money isn’t donating to the DOE.

      clearly, if placing a charter school in the same building as mckinney would deprive the students of art studios and other space they are using, then it should definitely not happen. but hundreds of schools in this city are co-lated, just a fraction of them being charters.

      our local elementary school is co-located with a middle school. there are two high schools and one elementary school in a single (very big) building in cobble hill. some times it works, some times it doesn’t. but charter schools are not the enemy they are made out to be.

  • I predict that close examination will reveal that the NYTimes Author utilized alot of poetic license in this story AND the blowback will drown out the real story of the difficulty of poverty in our society.

    • BoerumHill

      Are you certain about that?

      The chronic challenges of sub-standard conditions at Auburn Family Residence have been the subject of numerous reports from other news sources and blogs. Sadly, those reports go back for years; seems unlikely this report will spur any action.

      • Certain – no and I am not saying that this story isnt tragic or that the shelter isnt dickens-like. But I have read many of there ‘poverty porn’ pieces over the years and they almost always end the same way.
        The original author, in an attempt to make the story interesting, dramatic and a ‘morality’ piece, spins the reality to make the poor person seem angelic, the system seem terrible and people in power evil. Then the 1st response by others is to fact check every line, whereby they inevitably find inconsistencies and spin; this results in shifting the story away from the disadvantaged and onto ‘journalism’ and then the slightly less than angelic but decidedly powerless poor person get ignored (like always).

  • The ad below this post for the $2300 studios at The Williamsburg is some real dark (presumably unintentional) irony.

  • I heard several people at the DOE today talking about that child and her family. They had no idea there was a story coming but had been involved and advocating for her and her siblings all along. There are so many wonderful people doing good work at the DOE and they are not the Ivy League consultants looking for the next job but the old-timers who live and breathe educating kids no matter what their situation.

    • Exactly. Schools like Susan McKinney and PS 67–where this girl attended elementary school–are on the front lines with children who live in poverty. They have less of everything: money, publicity, but these schools are saving lives and, as the article makes clear, an oasis of stability for children whose lives are anything but stable. Here’s hoping the new mayor will divert resources back to schools like these.

      • Hell, yes.

        I’ve been interested in McKinney for a while now. I know a few graduates of it, and they are impressive. It would be fantastic to see a school like this get the resources it deserves.