It’s tough to find hope amid New York City’s homelessness crisis, currently at levels not seen since the Great Depression. The ultra-posh skyscraper condos seem never to quit barreling into the skyline, at the expense of entire neighborhoods and affordable housing. This week, though, a story in the New York Times serves as a reminder of human resilience and the importance of community, close evidence of what is at risk if we don’t fight against inequity in our city and beyond.
The subject is Girl Scout Troop 6000, which consists of around 20 young girls who are homeless and living in the Sleep Inn, a commercial hotel the city has taken over as part of its plan to accommodate the growing number of needy families. Begun in February—the same month that 23,764 of the city’s total 62,435 homeless were children—the girls meet in a makeshift conference room in the Sleep Inn and earn their badges and learn about leadership and community reciprocity just as any Girl Scout Troop would.
This particular Troop was the brainchild of Giselle Burgess, a Girl Scouts engagement specialist who is also homeless, and whose daughters are members of Troop 6000; as a working single mother with five children, her family became homeless “in August after their rental home in Flushing was sold to make way for condominiums.” The costs for the Troop are being covered by Girl Scouts of America, and the activity, it seems, is giving the girls a chance at stability at a time in their lives when it is rare:
In interviews, the girls of Troop 6000 talked about what they wanted to be when they grew up. Fashion designer, pediatrician, basketball player, engineer. (The New York Times is using only the girls’ first names to protect their privacy.)
“I’m going to help the homeless,” said Silkia, 9, a third grader. “I’m going to get mad money, and I’m going to ask them if they want a shelter.”
Luz, 13, who is originally from the Bronx and attends seventh grade in Brooklyn, chimed in. “Or I could just switch up your idea,” she added. “You’re going to work and have mad money. Then you’re going to build a shelter for the homeless people.
“And then you’re going to give food, give blankets, give pillows, and there you go,” she added, opening her arms as in a ta-da moment. “A shelter.”
The city is looking into expanding the program to other homeless shelters and hotels; the activities the Girl Scouts arrange “give them something to look forward to in a place where a curfew and a restriction on visitors make it difficult to set up play dates and foster friendships,” writes the Times’ Nikita Stewart. It’s lovely, but also galling; friendship and community something that children shouldn’t have to struggle for, and yet the climate of rapid, community-extinguishing gentrification is so persistent that increasingly, they do.