BUSES ARRIVING IN front of the Sleep Inn could mean one of two very different things: a field trip that might be the greatest day of a young Scout’s life, or the dreaded return to PATH, which meant you were getting bounced out of one shelter and moved to another. One prompted joy; the other served as a reminder that being poor meant having little or no control over where you would rest your head from one week to the next. Even if the decision to move families from one shelter to another wasn’t arbitrary, at the very least it seemed that the transfers were carried out with indifference. Someone somewhere—a caseworker or management at a hotel or in the Department of Homeless Services—had decided that it was time for people to pack up and move. Genesis, Brithani, and their mother and little sister were moved from the Sleep Inn to a more traditional shelter that had a regular-size refrigerator and a stove in each room so that families could make home-cooked meals. In their new space, Genesis was grateful to see her mother stirring pots, not only because that meant far better food than they’d been able to eat in a long time but also because the packaged lunches and dinners handed out each day at the Sleep Inn had been meals that could stretch to satisfy an empty stomach—filled with starches that could also exacerbate diabetes, which Genesis’s mother had developed. So having a stove and a refrigerator was good, because it meant healthier food. But the move came with consequences, too. Their new shelter was deep in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, about forty-five minutes away from the Sleep Inn. Genesis and Brithani had to start at new schools—again.–Troop 6000: The Girl Scout Troop That Began in a Shelter and Inspired the World by Nikita Stewart
Tag Archives: Girl Scouts
Tastes Like Poverty
Inside the makeshift social services office at the Sleep Inn, there were hundreds of single-serve disposable plastic bowls of cereal, the kind with paper on top that peeled back like a sardine can. There were a few varieties to choose from, but the cereal was packaged for convenience and economy, and for parents and their children at the Sleep Inn, it was another reminder that being poor meant having fewer options. Someone somewhere had decided that a single small serving of cereal per day was good enough, and to many, each plastic container felt like a single serving of poverty. To experience homelessness was to live a life where everything, it seemed, was decided by the shelter staff, by the hotel staff, by the government. Every aspect of their lives was apportioned right down to the cereal.–Troop 6000: The Girl Scout Troop That Began in a Shelter and Inspired the World by Nikita Stewart
Impossible Shelter Rules
At the same time Genesis was crying onscreen, Cori was sobbing outside the room. Her neighbor at the Sleep Inn had told her that a resident assistant was in her room packing up her belongings. Cori had done everything right—seeking permission and getting a letter from the Girl Scouts—but there had been a miscommunication or someone had decided that the letter was not adequate authorization for her absence from shelter for more than forty-eight hours. According to Childrens Community Services, Cori was in breach. So now they were kicking her out.
–Troop 6000: The Girl Scout Troop That Began in a Shelter and Inspired the World by Nikita Stewart
A Name for the Nameless
But this new troop was unique. It belonged to girls who did not know where they belonged. It wouldn’t make sense to use the numbers normally applied to troops in any of the five boroughs. Given that its members had no fixed addresses, wasn’t this troop of girls, no matter where it was located, really like a floating borough in its own right? Or even a shadow borough, because the rest of society was ignorant of or didn’t want to acknowledge its residents? At some point Girl Scout staff realized that the 6000s, designated years earlier for specialized troops, like those for girls with special needs, were no longer used. And so, the Girl Scouts of Greater New York settled on the name Troop 6000.–Troop 6000: The Girl Scout Troop That Began in a Shelter and Inspired the World by Nikita Stewart
If Heidi had been shocked to hear that all of the rooms in the Sleep Inn were providing shelter for the homeless, she was absolutely shocked to hear that the person proposing to start a Girl Scout troop there was a homeless employee of the Girl Scouts. She began to grasp something that not enough city officials seemed to understand: Homelessness was escalating at such a rapid rate that a hotel had been informally turned into a shelter in a matter of a few months, so fast that a community development specialist at the Girl Scouts was now counted among the city’s most vulnerable.–Troop 6000: The Girl Scout Troop That Began in a Shelter and Inspired the World by Nikita Stewart
Eligible To Live
They were waiting to be placed in what the city called conditional shelter: For ten days, before putting any family in permanent shelter, investigators would call landlords and relatives to verify whether applicants for housing were actually homeless. For years, advocates and attorneys for homeless people had complained about this intrusiveness, treating homeless people as if they were trying to steal something, as if everyone was a liar until proven otherwise. In the past, the definition of overcrowding varied from investigator to investigator, with some even asking relatives whether a person might sleep well on bedding in a bathtub. Acceptable long-term sleeping options included air mattresses, even if they took up all the floor space in a room.
About 58 percent of those vying for a place to live were initially found to be ineligible either because they had no documentation that they had been evicted or because relatives, unsure of what to say, would convince themselves or outright lie to investigators that ten people could comfortably and happily live in a one-bedroom/one-bathroom apartment. This meant that many people seeking shelter had to apply all over again after incorrectly being found ineligible; others just gave up in frustration, returning to crammed apartments or enduring family strife for the sake of a roof over their heads.–Troop 6000: The Girl Scout Troop That Began in a Shelter and Inspired the World by Nikita Stewart