Impossible Shelter Rules

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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

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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

Shocking Poverty

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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

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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