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Invisible Child, Part 1: Girl in the Shadows: Dasani’s Homeless Life

Author: Andrea Elliott, Photographs by Ruth Fremson

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She wakes to the sound of breathing. The smaller children lie tangled beside her, their chests rising and falling under winter coats and wool blankets. A few feet away, their mother and father sleep near the mop bucket they use as a toilet. Two other children share a mattress by the rotting wall where the mice live, opposite the baby, whose crib is warmed by a hair dryer perched on a milk crate.

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Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

Jun 17
Terry Elliott

Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

(Jun 17 2015 6:24PM) : In my part of Kentucky we have an expression--po' folks got po' ways. And that is what this story exemplifies--we are adaptable and we use the closest material at hand to solve the problems we have the best way we can.
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Feb 5
Ezekiel Harrison (Feb 05 2016 9:45AM) : the family is homeless.They are suffering from the cold weather. They live in a place that is mice infested . more

The fact that they are homeless makes this important. This story connects to me in a way is I seen a homeless family living on the street one time.

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Mar 7
Paul AllisonNDSS (Mar 07 2016 12:45PM) : Only once -- you saw a homeless family? more

Did you/Could you stop to help? There might be homeless students at NDSS. Have you noticed? What difference would it make if you met someone homeless in you classes?

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Feb 25
Stacy Roman (Feb 25 2016 12:38PM) : poor more

i see that they share beds to sleep in so you can tell they poor and dont have as much money to get another. i can connect to this because i know a lot of people living that life style

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Feb 26
Paul AllisonNDSS (Feb 26 2016 11:45AM) : You know a lot of people who are homeless? more

I wonder what you feel about this “life style” — and it’s a bit surprising to see you call this a lifestyle because it isn’t something someone chooses, is it?

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Mar 9
Abubakar Touray (Mar 09 2016 10:07AM) : Dasani lives in a room where there's a hole that rats come from. She lives in that room with her siblings and her mom and father. They have a mop bucket for a toilet. [Edited] more

I wonder why they don’t have toilets. I feel sorry for homeless families because its going to be very hard for the parent to go find a job if there busy trying to taking care of there child.

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Mar 9
Kaesean Cotto (Mar 09 2016 12:53PM) : Kids have to share beds. They live in a place that is less than decent, and infested. more

I see struggle in this paragraph, they need to use a mop bucket as a toilet. I also see, that they do try and take care of one another as best they can. “The baby, whose crib is warmed by a hair dryer perched on a milk crate”

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Mar 16
Paul Allison

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(Mar 16 2016 11:10AM) : You noticed both struggle and care. more

I like that you see both things. Just because people struggle doesn’t mean that they don’t care for each other and for others.

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Mar 10
Ousman Dukuray (Mar 10 2016 12:14PM) : there all living in a crowded room not having enough space [Edited] more

I believe its tough to live in a crowded space fill of people and use a mop toilet it makes it important because they should be living in better conditions then this.it connects to me because i am saddend that they have to go through this struggle. I believe the government should step and do something about this poor living condition in auburn and not only that place but other shelters

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Mar 10
Cory Hughley (Mar 10 2016 12:52PM) : I feel sad for the girl just because she is living in the shelter.I wouldn't want my sister laying next to a mop bucket everytime she wakes up.It would be hard for me to see that.
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Mar 11
Moses Ortiz (Mar 11 2016 11:03AM) : I can't believe the struggles this family is going thought because they use a mop bucket as a toilet, the kids sleep near the mice. It seems like a horrible life to me
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Mar 16
Paul Allison

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(Mar 16 2016 11:11AM) : Clearly it's a tough live. more

I’m wondering what you think about reading this. What would it benefit you to see details like this about a homeless family?

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Mar 11
Anfernie Mercedes (Mar 11 2016 11:19AM) : i noticed the struggles of the people living here more

This is very intersting to me because i never been through this in my life.

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Mar 11
John Sosa (Mar 11 2016 11:15AM) : the condion they live in is not how we live and its not a good place to live because they have a baby and a baby needs a clean place to live or it can get stick and die more

this is important because the way they living is not good for nobody and it really don’t connect to me in anyway but when i go to D.R i see that some peopel live like this and i want to do something about it but i cant

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Mar 15
Anfernie Mercedes (Mar 15 2016 11:18AM) : LIES !!
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Paul Allison

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(Mar 16 2016 11:12AM) : Why do you think John is lying? more

I believe him when he says he wants to help. His comments also make me wonder i being homeless in DR is similar or different than being homeless in NYC.

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Slipping out from her covers, the oldest girl sits at the window. On mornings like this, she can see all the way across Brooklyn to the Empire State Building, the first New York skyscraper to reach 100 floors. Her gaze always stops at that iconic temple of stone, its tip pointed celestially, its facade lit with promise.

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Feb 9
Ezekiel Harrison (Feb 09 2016 9:20AM) : Dasani looks out her window. She is the oldest child of the family. She sees Brooklyn and the Empire State Building in Manhattan. more

This is important because it shows that Dasani is fascinated with what she sees, and the Empire State Building represents “promise” or hope. I have 12 children in my family and I’m in the middle. For me New York is where I live!

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Feb 26
Paul AllisonNDSS (Feb 26 2016 11:47AM) : Wow. You have 12 children in your family and you're the middle child? [Edited] more

Seems like you would have a lot of responsibility for the younger children and a lot of older siblings to take care of you — or order you around? I wonder how you are relating this to Dasani.

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Mar 7
Ezekiel Harrison (Mar 07 2016 2:56PM) : yes i have 12 children in my family more

my mother had her first child when she was 24 and the last 42

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Mar 10
Kaesean Cotto (Mar 10 2016 12:03PM) : She sits at the window, and looks at a celestial temple of stone, burning with promise. more

I think that she see’s hope, in the temple. That’s why she looks at it, and that’s why she always stops at it. It gives her hope.

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Jun 17
Terry Elliott

Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

(Jun 17 2015 6:26PM) : Empire State Building as a symbol of the dream. more

I get the impression that if the author had been able to see the Statue of Liberty she would have use that iconic symbol. Not sure I think of either as iconic for someone who uses a haird dryer to keep a baby warm.

“It makes me feel like there’s something going on out there,” says the 11-year-old girl, never one for patience. This child of New York is always running before she walks. She likes being first — the first to be born, the first to go to school, the first to make the honor roll.

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Mar 7
Ezekiel Harrison (Mar 07 2016 12:42PM) : Dasani is 11 years old and has no patience. [Edited] more

Dasani has no patience. She runs before she walks, and she likes being the first to everything: the first to go to school and the first to make the honor roll.

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Mar 7
Paul AllisonNDSS (Mar 07 2016 12:52PM) : Dasani is impatient about being successful. more

Are you like that too? Have you ever been? Even if it isn’t about school, is there anything that you show little patience about?

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Mar 11
Anfernie Mercedes (Mar 11 2016 11:25AM) : Are you like that too? Have you ever been? more

Intersting

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Mar 16
Kaesean Cotto (Mar 16 2016 12:52PM) : Dasani wants to go fast more

She’s all about success, she wants to be the first for everything. She’s impatient, because she wants to experience everything.

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Feb 25
Stacy Roman (Feb 25 2016 12:59PM) : So you can see she's trying to be an educated student. [Edited] more

I see that she’s hustling to do her thing. Most of these girls won’t even care to help their mom with things. I did this once, but I learned to be selfish.

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Mar 7
Paul AllisonNDSS (Mar 07 2016 1:19PM) : What an interesting thing for you to say: "I learned to be selfish." more

I guess if it is something that you have learned, then you are saying that it is better for you this way: being selfish? Why is it better that way? What made you feel this way?

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Even her name, Dasani, speaks of a certain reach. The bottled water had come to Brooklyn’s bodegas just before she was born, catching the fancy of her mother, who could not afford such indulgences. It hinted at a different, upwardly mobile clientele, a set of newcomers who over the next decade would transform the borough.

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Mar 7
Ezekiel Harrison (Mar 07 2016 12:54PM) : Dasani is a girl that was named after a bottled water. more

Dasani is a pure type of spring water and her mother named her that name beacause of the way it sounds and how different it is from another names

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Mar 7
Paul AllisonNDSS (Mar 07 2016 1:20PM) : Names! more

I wonder what your mother was thinking when she named you Ezekiel!

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Dasani’s own neighborhood, Fort Greene, is now one of gentrification’s gems. Her family lives in the Auburn Family Residence, a decrepit city-run shelter for the homeless. It is a place where mold creeps up walls and roaches swarm, where feces and vomit plug communal toilets, where sexual predators have roamed and small children stand guard for their single mothers outside filthy showers.

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Mar 7
Ezekiel Harrison (Mar 07 2016 12:59PM) : Dasani lived or still lives in a neighborhood called Fort Greene that is located in Brooklyn, New York. [Edited] more

Fort Greene is a gentrification gem, and her family was residing in an Auburn Family Residence, a type of shelter for people who are homeless. That place, from what I have read is a nasty place.

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Paul Allison

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(Mar 16 2016 11:14AM) : What about the neighborhood? more

What does it mean to say that a neighborhood like Fort Greene is a “gentrification gem?”

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Mar 9
Abubakar Touray (Mar 09 2016 10:12AM) : this is crazy more

i think new york should upgrade their shelters because people don’t deserve to live this way. especially when there is mold around children that could get children sick.

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Mar 16
Ebrahim Dukuray (Mar 16 2016 12:59PM) : this shows that dasani is from a poor family and the house is full of molds scraps and sexual predators more

i comment on this because it shows how tough dasani lifestyle was

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Jun 17
Terry Elliott

Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

(Jun 17 2015 6:36PM) : describes her slum in a gentrified background. more

Fails to define gentrification—rural readers and young readers left in dark.

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Mar 11
Anfernie Mercedes (Mar 11 2016 11:26AM) : Fails to define gentrification—rural readers and young readers left in dark. more

Intersting

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Paul Allison

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(Mar 16 2016 11:15AM) : Gentrification... more

… yet the scenes at the end of this chapter describe gentrification better than in many other places. I hope the young and rural reader hangs in there!

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Feb 26
Stacy Roman (Feb 26 2016 9:34AM) : they lived in a shelter more

this is important because she talking bout how her family had no money and that she grew up in the shelter

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Feb 26
Paul AllisonNDSS (Feb 26 2016 11:52AM) : In the sentence that you have highlighted it says that the shelter is "decrepit" and "city-run." more

What does it mean to you that Dasani’s room in a shelter is decrepit? What does it say about NYC that such a place is run by the city?

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Jun 17
Terry Elliott

Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

(Jun 17 2015 6:30PM) : Their home is ugly personified. more

Author is using tone to set up the reader, the welll-heeled NYT reader for something….guess.

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Mar 15
Cristal Arriaga (Mar 15 2016 11:25AM) : i think they poor cuss they share a mattress more

i seen kids like that back in mexico when i want i saw kids that share there stuff.

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Paul Allison

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(Mar 16 2016 11:16AM) : What an interesting connection you are making here. more

I wonder if it is the same or different to be homeless in NYC and Mexico.

It is no place for children. Yet Dasani is among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belongs to a vast and 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.

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Mar 7
Ezekiel Harrison (Mar 07 2016 3:26PM) : Dasani is among the most homeless kids in New York City more

To me that is very sad because most kids dont have a roof over there heads and they sleep on the street with they parents

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Mar 16
Ebrahim Dukuray (Mar 16 2016 12:50PM) : this show that dasani lives with too many people at the orphange more

i comment on this because it shows how dasani life is diffcult

Nearly a quarter of Dasani’s childhood has unfolded at Auburn, where she shares a 520-square-foot room with her parents and seven siblings. As they begin to stir on this frigid January day, Dasani sets about her chores.

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Mar 11
Anfernie Mercedes (Mar 11 2016 11:27AM) : I see there talking about how they all live in like the same bedroom. The siblings do chores for they family and all. I sometimes have to do the same more

Intersting

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Mar 4
Stacy Roman (Mar 04 2016 9:36AM) : She shares a 520 square foot room with her parents and siblings. [Edited] more

I see there talking about how they all live in like the same bedroom. The siblings do chores for they family and all. I sometimes have to do the same.

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Mar 14
Zakelle Brown (Mar 14 2016 9:40AM) : a quarter of dasanis childhood has unfolded at auburn,where she shares a 520- square- foot room with her parents and seven siblings. more

in this sentence i see that dasanis childhood has unfolded.
this is important because that means alot to dasani this is her life that unfolded.
this do not connect to me.

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Her mornings begin with Baby Lele, whom she changes, dresses and feeds, checking that the formula distributed by the shelter is not, once again, expired. She then wipes down the family’s small refrigerator, stuffed with lukewarm milk, Tropicana grape juice and containers of leftover Chinese. After tidying the dresser drawers she shares with a sister, Dasani rushes her younger siblings onto the school bus.

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Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

Jun 17
Terry Elliott

Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

(Jun 17 2015 6:34PM) : Classic 'show don't tell" writing here. more

Anybody who has had to live with an unpredictable refridgerator knows the panoply of underlying implications of a crappy fridge. Leftovers are a wing and a prayer, waste is rampant, moisture breeds….well, hell, who knows considering the initial conditions of the environment—roaches, rats, and ….

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Mar 3
Stacy Roman (Mar 03 2016 12:51PM) : Blessing. [Edited] more

Dasani is a good kid who, as you can see helps out her mother. It says she wipes and cleans the refrigerator stuffed with a lot of stuff in it. This is important because it shows the stuff she has to live with.

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“I have a lot on my plate,” she says, taking inventory: The fork and spoon are her parents and the macaroni, her siblings — except for Baby Lele, who is a plump chicken breast.

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Jun 17
Terry Elliott

Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

(Jun 17 2015 6:37PM) : plate as metaphor. [Edited] more

Signifies the complexity of eldest child’s understanding of her and her family’s lot.

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Mar 11
Anfernie Mercedes (Mar 11 2016 11:28AM) : Signifies the complexity of eldest child’s understanding of her and her family’s lot. more

Intersting

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“So that’s a lot on my plate — with some corn bread,” she says. “That’s a lot on my plate.”

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Dasani guards her feelings closely, dispensing with anger through humor. Beneath it all is a child whose existence is defined by her siblings. Her small scrub-worn hands are always tying shoelaces or doling out peanut butter sandwiches, taking the ends of the loaf for herself. The bond is inescapable. In the presence of her brothers and sisters, Dasani has no peace. Without them, she is incomplete.

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Feb 29
Matthew Hernandez (Feb 29 2016 9:44AM) : Dasani is still happy even though she is poor. [Edited] more

This makes it important because Dasani has been through a lot like sleeping next to mold, having roaches swarm in her house and sexual predators are around the area. Also she lives in Fort Greene. She lives in a place were 22,000 homeless children live and it it higher then the great depression. And after all that she is still happy because she has her family with her.

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Mar 11
Anfernie Mercedes (Mar 11 2016 11:29AM) : We presume she is looking at the Empire State Building? more

Intersting

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Dasani in the room at Auburn.

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Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

Jun 17
Terry Elliott

Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

(Jun 17 2015 6:40PM) : Front lit--why? Window centered--why? more

We presume she is looking at the Empire State Building?

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Feb 29
Anthony Ruiz (Feb 29 2016 12:40PM) : In this photo Dasani is looking at the window in her house that looks vary dirty and messy inside. more

What makes this important is because this is not a good environment for her or any kid because its unhealthy.

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Mar 15
Anfernie Mercedes (Mar 15 2016 11:11AM) : We presume she is looking at the Empire State Building?
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Today, Dasani rides the creaky elevator to the lobby and walks past the guards, the metal detector and the tall, iron fence that envelops what she calls “the jail.” She steps into the light, and is met by the worn brick facade of the Walt Whitman projects across the street.

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Mar 10
Stacy Roman (Mar 10 2016 9:27AM) : weird type of elevator more

i see that there talking about like a lobby in which she takes a elevator which creeps her out and reminds her something about jail .

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Mar 15
Anfernie Mercedes (Mar 15 2016 11:12AM) : i see that there talking about like a lobby in which she takes a elevator which creeps her out and reminds her something about jail .

She heads east along Myrtle Avenue and, three blocks later, has crossed into another New York: the shaded, graceful abode of Fort Greene’s brownstones, which fetch millions of dollars.

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Mar 15
Anfernie Mercedes (Mar 15 2016 11:14AM) : She crossed into another New York
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“Black is beautiful, black is me,” she sings under her breath as her mother trails behind.

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Dasani suddenly stops, puzzling at the pavement. Its condition, she notes, is clearly superior on this side of Myrtle.

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“Worlds change real fast, don’t it?” her mother says.

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Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

Jun 17
Terry Elliott

Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

(Jun 17 2015 6:42PM) : Classic transition from poor to rich more

projects to million dollar brownstones, crap to good sidewalks, the difference is not lost on those living in it.

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Feb 29
Anthony Ruiz (Feb 29 2016 12:59PM) : This quote from Dasani mother is really mind blowing. more

The reason i think this is mind blowing is because this connects to me in real life when i say something and someone else changes my words to make it seem like if i said something else.

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Mar 10
Stacy Roman (Mar 10 2016 12:48PM) : i do agree with this because i have noticed it more

they talking about how life changes everyday well probably their lifestyles and the struggles they have to face

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In the short span of Dasani’s life, her city has been reborn. 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, which began just seven months after Dasani was born.

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Mar 7
Matthew Hernandez (Mar 07 2016 3:26PM) : People like Dasani have been left behind. [Edited] more

After the city was reborn people like Dasani were left behind. I didn’t know that so many New Yorkers didn’t have anything. This surprised me.

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In the shadows of this renewal, it is Dasani’s population who have been left behind. The ranks of the poor have risen, with almost half of New Yorkers living near or below the poverty line. Their traditional anchors — affordable housing and jobs that pay a living wage — have weakened as the city reorders itself around the whims of the wealthy.

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Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

Jun 17
Terry Elliott

Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

(Jun 17 2015 6:50PM) : The poor are growing because of the rich. more

Assumes a zero sum game. Pretty damned good assumption, but it is a simplistic explanation that relies on that assumption. Is it the only assumption that explains or is it just the easiest one?

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Mar 7
Abubakar Touray (Mar 07 2016 9:34AM) : Why don't the governor try to help the homeless with jobs? [Edited] more

I think if the governor try to the homeless with jobs it will be much better than them sitting outside in the cold when its cold outside.

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Mar 10
Stacy Roman (Mar 10 2016 12:51PM) : working and interviews for jobs more

well as you can see she’s a new yorker and she’s looking for jobs and interviews . this is important because you need money to live a better lifestyle

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Long before Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio rose to power by denouncing the city’s inequality, children like Dasani were being pushed further into the margins, and not just in New York. Cities across the nation have become flash points of polarization, as one population has bounced back from the recession while another continues to struggle. 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.

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This bodes poorly for the future. Decades of research have shown the staggering societal costs of children in poverty. They grow up with less education and lower earning power. They are more likely to have drug addiction, psychological trauma and disease, or wind up in prison.

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Dasani does not need the proof of abstract research. All of these plights run through her family. Her future is further threatened by the fact of her homelessness, which has been shown, even in short spells, to bring disastrous consequences.

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Stacy Roman (Mar 10 2016 12:53PM) : the affect on dasani more

i fee like that its not fair to know your affect on being homeless can hurt your future also you can change being homeless around quick as long as your educated .

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Dasani’s circumstances are largely the outcome of parental dysfunction. While nearly one-third of New York’s homeless children are supported by a working adult, her mother and father are unemployed, have a history of arrests and are battling drug addiction.

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Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

Jun 17
Terry Elliott

Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

(Jun 17 2015 6:52PM) : The search for who is to blame--parents more

There are many levels of failure. When I look at the photos here I see the parental failure. The other I rely on the reporter for.

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Yet Dasani’s trials are not solely of her parents’ making. They are also the result of decisions made a world away, in the marble confines of City Hall. With the economy growing in 2004, the Bloomberg administration adopted sweeping new policies intended to push the homeless to become more self-reliant. They would no longer get priority access to public housing and other programs, but would receive short-term help with rent. Poor people would be empowered, the mayor argued, and homelessness would decline.

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Jun 17
Terry Elliott

Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

(Jun 17 2015 6:57PM) : The poor just need a little pump priming, just a little because we all know that is true from countless discussions by Bloomberg and crew. more

Yeah, just like broken windows. Do all of these politicians just look for simple minded platitudes to satisfy just as simple minded voters. Or maybe I should just call them bloody minded? The public projects in Arizona and Salt Lake City to house homeless vets has it right. You have to give people a home. As long as they need it.

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But the opposite happened. As rents steadily rose and low-income wages stagnated, chronically poor families like Dasani’s found themselves stuck in a shelter system with fewer exits. Families are now languishing there longer than ever — a development that Mr. Bloomberg explained by saying shelters offered “a much more pleasurable experience than they ever had before.”

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Stacy Roman (Mar 10 2016 12:56PM) : issues to deal with more

i see that there talking about how her language wasnt as good at first . this is important because lets say when you go to a country and you dont know the language it can affect you by not knowing and to not observe what they learn

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Just three days before the mayor made that comment at a news conference in August 2012, an inspector at Auburn stopped by Dasani’s crowded room, noting that a mouse was “running around and going into the walls,” which had “many holes.”

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“Please assist,” the inspector added. “There is infant in room.”

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Dasani was about to start sixth grade at a promising new school. This would be a pivotal year of her childhood — one already marked by more longing and loss than most adults ever see.

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A tangle of three dramas had yet to unspool.

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There was the question of whether Dasani’s family would remain intact. Her mother had just been reunited with the children on the condition that she and her husband stay off drugs. The city’s Administration for Children’s Services was watching closely. Any slips, and the siblings could wind up in foster care, losing their parents and, most likely, one another.

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Ousman Dukuray (Mar 14 2016 12:19PM) : HER mother just reunited with her childern more

her mother had to leave drugs to be with her kids. it was a sacrifice from the start when dasani’s mother started drugs so thats what made it important.it connects because in this world many people are being seperated due to drug abuse

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The family’s need for a home was also growing desperate. The longer they stayed in that one room, the more they seemed to fall apart. Yet rents were impossibly high in the city, and a quarter-million people were waiting for the rare vacancy in public housing. Families like Dasani’s had been leaving the state. This was the year, then, that her parents made a promise: to save enough money to go somewhere else, maybe as far as the Pocono Mountains, in Pennsylvania.

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Jun 17
Terry Elliott

Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

(Jun 17 2015 7:00PM) : Section 8 housing in other states more

This is the classic Reagan solution, the Okie solution, the poor diaspora solution. Who has a right to live where they live? Only those who can afford to?

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Dasani could close her eyes and see it. “It’s quiet and it’s a lot of grass.”

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In the absence of this long-awaited home, there was only school. But it remained to be seen whether Dasani’s new middle school, straining under budget cuts, could do enough to fill the voids of her life.

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For children like Dasani, school is not just a place to cultivate a hungry mind. It is a refuge. The right school can provide routine, nourishment and the guiding hand of responsible adults.

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But school also had its perils. Dasani was hitting the age when girls prove their worth through fighting. And she was her mother’s daughter, a fearless fighter.

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She was also on the cusp of becoming something more, something she could feel but not yet see, if only the right things happened and the right people came along.

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Dasani is a short, wiry girl whose proud posture overwhelms her 4-foot-8 frame. She has a delicate, oval face and luminous brown eyes that watch everything, owl-like. Her expression veers from wonder to mischief. Strangers often remark on her beauty — her high cheekbones and smooth skin — but the comments never seem to register.

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What she knows is that she has been blessed with perfect teeth. In a family where braces are the stuff of fantasy, having good teeth is a lottery win.

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On the subway, Dasani can blend in with children who are better off. It is an ironic fact of being poor in a rich city that the donated garments Dasani and her siblings wear lend them the veneer of affluence, at least from a distance. Used purple Uggs and Patagonia fleeces cover thinning socks and fraying jeans. A Phil & Teds rain cover, fished from a garbage bin, protects Baby Lele’s rickety stroller.

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Dasani and her family on the subway.

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Mar 3
Anthony Ruiz (Mar 03 2016 12:44PM) : In this photo it shows how dansia lives there homeless life style. more

If you look closer in the photo you can see how sad dansia and her mother look as there taking the train.

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Dasani tells herself that brand names don’t matter. She knows such yearnings will go unanswered, so better not to have them. But once in a while, when by some miracle her mother produces a new pair of Michael Jordan sneakers, Dasani finds herself succumbing to the same exercise: She wears them sparingly, and only indoors, hoping to keep them spotless. It never works.

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Abubakar Touray (Mar 10 2016 12:35PM) : i respect her for that. more

Most kids now a days worrying about wearing name brand clothes and shoes and life is not all about those stuff cause it cost money and not everybody has money.

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Best to try to blend in, she tells herself, while not caring when you don’t.

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She likes being small because “I can slip through things.” In the blur of her city’s crowded streets, she is just another face. What people do not see is a homeless girl whose mother succumbed to crack more than once, whose father went to prison for selling drugs, and whose cousins and aunts have become the anonymous casualties of gang shootings, AIDS and domestic violence.

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“That’s not gonna be me,” she says. “Nuh-uh. Nope.”

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Dasani speaks with certainty. She often begins a sentence with “Mommy say” before reciting, verbatim, some new bit of learned wisdom, such as “camomile tea cures a bad stomach” or “that lady is a dope fiend.” She likes facts. She rarely wavers, or hints at doubt, even as her life is consumed by it.

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When strangers are near, Dasani refers to Auburn as “that place.” It is separate from her, and distant. But in the company of her siblings, she calls it “the house,” transforming a crowded room into an imaginary home.

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In reality, Auburn is neither. The forbidding, 10-story brick building, which dates back almost a century, was formerly Cumberland Hospital, one of seven public hospitals that closed because of the city’s 1970s fiscal crisis.

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In 1985, the city repurposed the former hospital into a shelter for families. This was the dawn of the period known as “modern homelessness,” driven by wage stagnation, Reagan-era cutbacks and the rising cost of homes. By the time Mayor Bloomberg took office in 2002, New York’s homeless population had reached 31,063 — a record for the city, which is legally obligated to provide shelter.

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Among the city’s 152 family shelters, Auburn became known as a place of last resort, a dreaded destination for the chronically homeless.

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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. 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.

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There are few signs that children live at Auburn. Locked gates prevent them from setting foot on the front lawn. In a city that has invested millions of dollars in new “green spaces,” Auburn’s is often overrun with weeds.

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Inside, prepackaged meals are served in a cafeteria where Dasani and her siblings wait in one line for their food before heading to another line to heat it in one of two microwaves that hundreds of residents share. Tempers fly and fights explode. The routine can last more than an hour before the children take their first bite.

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Mar 3
Anthony Ruiz (Mar 03 2016 12:55PM) : In this paragraph it tells me the struggle that dasnia and her siblings deal with. more

I can tell this is a struggle for dansia and her siblings because when she in the cafeteria they take there food and put it in the microwave but have to deal with other kids having tempers and fights lasting more than hour

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The family’s room is the scene of debilitating chaos: stacks of dirty laundry, shoes stuffed under a mattress, bicycles and coats piled high.

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Anthony Ruiz (Mar 03 2016 1:02PM) : In this photo dansia mother is washing her baby in the sink around rotting walls. more

Its is really a bad interment for a baby because of the bad air,and plus all rot in the walls leaving a long dark gap where mice congregate.

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Mar 9
Abubakar Touray (Mar 09 2016 10:18AM) : disappointed more

im disappointed at this picture because they have to wash the the baby in a sink and this is very wrong that they city is not helping the poor with things in need.

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To the left of the door, beneath a decrepit sink where Baby Lele is bathed, the wall has rotted through, leaving a long, dark gap where mice congregate.

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Abubakar Touray (Mar 09 2016 10:23AM) : this is another thing. more

I personally think that the governor should help the poor with these kind of supplies like mattresses , bed sheets and more.

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A few feet away, Dasani’s legally blind, 10-year-old sister, Nijai, sleeps on a mattress that has come apart at the seams, its rusted coils splayed.

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Hand-washed clothes line the guards on the windows, which are shaded by gray wool blankets strung from the ceiling. A sticky fly catcher dangles overhead, dotted with dead insects.

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There is no desk or chair in the room — just a maze of mattresses and dressers. A flat-screen television rests on two orange milk crates.

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Anthony Ruiz (Mar 04 2016 9:11AM) : In this paragraph dasina describes her room and what it looks like. more

Dasina says theirs no desk or chair in the room just a maze full of mattresses and dressers and also a flat screen television that rests on two orange milk crates.

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To eat, the children sit on the cracked linoleum floor, which never feels clean no matter how much they mop. Homework is a challenge. The shelter’s one recreation room can hardly accommodate Auburn’s hundreds of children, leaving Dasani and her siblings to study, hunched over, on their mattresses.

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Sometimes it feels like too many bodies sharing the same air. “There’s no space to breathe ’cause they breathe up all the oxygen,” Dasani says.

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Abubakar Touray (Mar 14 2016 9:26AM) : This is really sad. more

I say this is sad because the government see this and they don’t want to help. Its not okay that children are sleeping in their living room with ripped up mattresses.

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She carves out small, sacred spaces: a portion of the floor at mealtime, an upturned crate by the window, a bathroom stall.

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The children spend hours at the playgrounds of the surrounding housing projects, where a subtle hierarchy is at work. If they are seen enough times emerging from Auburn, they are pegged as the neighborhood’s outliers, the so-called shelter boogies.

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Nothing gnaws at Dasani more.

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A mucus-stained nose suggests a certain degradation, not just the absence of tissues, but of a parent willing to wipe or a home so unclean that a runny nose makes no difference. Dasani and her siblings can get hungry enough to lose their concentration in school, but they are forever wiping one another’s noses.

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When Dasani hears “shelter boogies,” all she can think to say is what her mother always tells her — that Auburn is “just a pit stop.”

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“But you will live in the projects forever, as will your kids’ kids, and your kids’ kids’ kids.”

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She knows the battle is asymmetrical.

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The projects may represent all kinds of inertia. But to live at Auburn is to admit the ultimate failure: the inability of one’s parents to meet that most basic need.

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Dasani ticks through their faces, the girls from the projects who might turn up at this new school. Some are kind enough not to gossip about where she lives. The others might be distracted by the sheer noise of this first day — the start of sixth grade, the new uniform, the new faces. She will hopefully slip by those girls unseen.

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She approaches the school’s steps on a clear September morning. Fresh braids fall to one side of her face, clipped by bright yellow bows. Her required polo and khakis have been pressed with a hair straightener, since Auburn forbids irons.

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Her heart is pounding. She will be sure to take a circuitous route home. She will focus in class and mind her manners in the schoolyard. She only has to climb those steps.

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Minutes pass.

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“Come on, there’s nothing to be scared about,” her 34-year-old mother, Chanel, finally says, nudging Dasani up the stairs.

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She passes through the metal detector, joining 507 other middle and high school students at the Susan S. McKinney Secondary School of the Arts.

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Housed in a faded brick building two blocks from Auburn, McKinney is a poor-kids’ version of LaGuardia Arts, the elite Manhattan public school that inspired the television series “Fame.” Threadbare curtains adorn its theater. Stage props are salvaged from a nearby trash bin. Dance class is so crowded that students practice in intervals.

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An air of possibility permeates the school, named after the first African-American woman to become a physician in New York State.

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There is Officer Jamion Andrews, the security guard who moonlights as a rap lyricist, and Zakiya Harris, the dance teacher who runs a studio on the side. And there is Faith Hester, the comedic, eyelash-batting humanities teacher who wrote a self-help book titled “Create a Life You Love Living” and fancies her own reality show.

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The children also strive. Among them is a voice that periodically lifts the school with a “Madama Butterfly” aria. When the students hear it, they know that Jasmine, a sublimely gifted junior, is singing in the office of the principal, Paula Holmes.

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The school matriarch closes her eyes as she listens. It may be her only tranquil moment.

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Miss Holmes is a towering woman, by turns steely and soft. She wears a Bluetooth like a permanent earring and tends toward power suits. She has been at McKinney’s helm for 15 years and runs the school like a naval ship, peering down its gleaming hallways as if searching the seas for enemy vessels.

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Students stammer in her presence. She leaves her office door permanently open, like a giant, unblinking eye. A poster across the hall depicts a black man in sagging jeans standing before the White House, opposite President Obama. “To live in this crib,” the poster reads, “you have to look the part.”

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Miss Holmes has no tolerance for sagging — sartorial, attitudinal or otherwise.

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McKinney’s roots run deep. Dasani’s own grandmother studied there as a girl. Most of the middle school students are black, live in the surrounding projects and qualify for free or reduced meals. They eat in shifts in the school’s basement cafeteria, watched over by the avuncular Frank Heyward, who blasts oldies from a boombox, telling students, “I got shoes older than you.”

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Most of the middle school students at the Susan S. McKinney Secondary School of the Arts qualify for free or reduced meals.

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Mar 14
Abubakar Touray (Mar 14 2016 9:34AM) : The school should help. more

The the school should help by giving students that are in need of food to take home if there’s any left overs. I personally think that they should not throw them away because there are people out there that are really hungry that need food.

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For all of McKinney’s pluck, its burdens are great. In the last six years, the city has cut the school’s budget by a quarter as its population declined. Fewer teachers share a greater load. After-school resources have thinned, but not the needs of students whose families are torn apart by gun violence and drug use. McKinney’s staff psychologist shuttles between three schools like a firefighter.

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And now, a charter school is angling to move in. If successful, it will eventually claim McKinney’s treasured top floor, home to its theater class, dance studio and art lab. Teachers and parents are bracing for battle, announced by fliers warning against the “apartheid” effects of a charter co-location.

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Dasani knows about charter schools. Her former school, P.S. 67, shared space with one. She never spoke to those children, whose classrooms were stocked with new computers. Dasani’s own school was failing by the time she left.

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At McKinney, Dasani quickly draws the notice of the older students, and not because she is short, though the nickname “Shorty” sticks. It is her electricity. When they dote on her, she giggles. But say the wrong thing and she turns fierce, letting the four-letter words fly.

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It is still September when Dasani’s temper lands her in the principal’s office.

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“Please don’t call my mother,” Dasani whispers.

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Miss Holmes is seated in a rolling pleather chair held together by duct tape. She stares at the anguished girl. She has been at McKinney long enough to know when a child’s transgressions at school might bring a beating at home.

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The principal slowly scoots her chair up to Dasani and leans within inches of her face.

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“O.K.,” she says softly. “Let’s make a deal.”

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From that day forward, Dasani will be on her best behavior. In turn, Miss Holmes will keep what happens at school in school.

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With that, she waves Dasani off, fighting the urge to smile. She can’t help but like this feisty little girl.

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Dasani closes her eyes and tilts her head toward the ceiling of her classroom. She has missed breakfast again. She tries to drift. She sees Florida. For a child who has never been to the beach, television ads are transporting. She is walking in the sand. She crashes into the waves.

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Mar 4
Anthony Ruiz (Mar 04 2016 9:23AM) : In this paragraph Dasani talks about her day dream about Florida. more

In this day dream of hers she says that she nerved seen something like that ever not even in television ads and that she walk in the sand and crashes in the waves.

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Mar 14
Abubakar Touray (Mar 14 2016 9:38AM) : I think her mom should have let them have fun they where younger more

I think the mom should of took them to Coney Island i mean its right there in brooklyn where kids will enjoy you don’t need no money to have fun just enjoy with your family and life.

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“Dasaaaaaani!” her teacher sings out.

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She opens her eyes.

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There is Miss Hester, batting those lashes.

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Both she and another teacher, Kenya Mabry, were raised in the projects. They dress and talk with a polish that impresses Dasani, who studies them.

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Dasani in Faith Hester’s class.

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Miss Hester is also watching Dasani. She does not yet know where Dasani lives, or how hungry she gets. But Miss Hester finds two things striking: how late she arrives some mornings and how capable this girl is in spite of it. Without even trying, she keeps up.

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Dasani possesses what adults at McKinney consider an intuitive approach to learning, the kind that comes when rare smarts combine with extreme life circumstances. Her intelligence is “uncanny” and “far surpasses peers her age,” one counselor writes. “Student is continuously using critical analysis to reflect upon situations and interactions.”

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Principal Holmes is also taking note. She can already see in this “precocious little button” the kind of girl who could be anything — even a Supreme Court justice — if only she harnesses her gifts early enough. “Dasani has something that hasn’t even been unleashed yet,” Miss Holmes says. “It’s still being cultivated.”

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For now, Dasani’s most honed skill might be obfuscation. She works hard to hide her struggles, staying quiet as other children brag about their new cellphones or sleepovers with friends.

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If there is one place she feels free, it is dance class. When she walks into McKinney’s studio, and the music starts, her body releases whatever she is feeling.

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“When I’m happy I dance fast,” she says. “When I’m sad I dance slow. When I’m upset I dance both.”

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Dasani has been dancing for as long as she can remember, well before she earned her first dollar a few years ago break-dancing in Times Square. But the study of dance, as something practiced rather than spontaneous, this is new. She is learning to point her toes like a ballerina, and to fall back into a graceful bridge.

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Perhaps it is no accident that amid the bedlam of Dasani’s home life — the missed welfare appointments and piles of unwashed clothes — she is drawn to a craft of discipline.

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Here, in this room, time is kept and routines are mapped with precision and focus.

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Dasani never tires of rehearsing the same moves, or scrutinizing more experienced dancers. Her gaze is often fixed on a tall, limber eighth grader named Sahai.

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Sahai is the middle school’s valedictorian. A breathtaking dancer, she has long silky hair and carries herself like a newly crowned queen. She is a girl with enough means to accessorize elegantly. When Dasani looks at Sahai, she is taking the measure of all she is not.

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You can be popular in one of three ways, Dasani’s mother always says. Dress fly. Do good in school. Fight.

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The first option is out of the question. While Dasani clings to her uniform, other students wear coveted Adidas hoodies and Doc Marten boots. In dance class, Dasani does not even have a leotard.

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So she applies herself in school. “I have a lot of possibility,” she says. “I do.”

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Her strongest subject is English, where a poem she writes is tacked to a teacher’s wall.

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By October, she is on the honor roll, just as her life at Auburn is coming apart.

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Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

Jun 17
Terry Elliott

Eternity is in love with the creations of time.

(Jun 17 2015 8:17PM) : Transition. Boundaries. Home/school, rich/poor, and all the other bilateral metes and bounds we live by. more

The rhetorical trick used here is very simple. It is not even a weaving because it is about how these two elements don’t fit together.

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It is something of an art to sleep among nine other people. One learns not to hear certain sounds or smell certain smells. But some things still intrude on Dasani’s sleep. There is the ceaseless drip of that decaying sink, and the scratching of hungry mice. It makes no difference when the family lays out traps and hangs its food from the ceiling in a plastic bag. Auburn’s mice always return, as stubborn as the “ghetto squirrels,” in Chanel’s lingo, that forage the trash for Chinese fried chicken.

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Dasani shares a twin mattress and three dresser drawers with her mischievous and portly sister, Avianna, only one year her junior. Their 35-year-old stepfather, Supreme, has raised them as his own. They consider him their father and call him Daddy.

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Supreme married Chanel nine years earlier, bringing two children from a previous marriage. The boy, Khaliq, had trouble speaking. He had been trapped with his dead, pregnant mother after she fell down a flight of stairs. The girl, Nijai, had a rare genetic eye disease and was going blind. They were the same tender ages as Dasani and Avianna, forming a homeless Brady Bunch as Supreme and Chanel had four more children.

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Two of Dasani’s half-sisters, 7-year-old Maya and 6-year-old Hada, share the mattress to her right. The 5-year-old they call Papa sleeps by himself because he wets the bed. In the crib is Baby Lele, who is tended to by Dasani when her parents are listless from their daily dose of methadone.

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Chanel and Supreme take the synthetic opioid as part of their drug treament program. It has essentially become a substitute addiction.

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The more time they spend in this room, the smaller it feels. Nothing stays in order. Everything is exposed — marital spats, frayed underwear, the onset of puberty, the mischief other children hide behind closed doors. Supreme paces erratically. Chanel cannot check her temper. For Dasani and her siblings, to act like rambunctious children is to risk a beating.

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Mar 16
Abubakar Touray (Mar 16 2016 9:59AM) : I could see that this family went threw alot of struggles. more

I love reading this article because me and the i know never been threw this in our lives.So i know its been rough for dasani and her family.

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Dasani’s siblings, clockwise from top left: Khaliq; Nijai; Papa; Baby Lele and Avianna; Hada and Maya.

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By late fall, Chanel and Supreme are fighting daily about money.

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It has been years since Supreme lost his job as a barber and Chanel stopped working as a janitor for the parks department. He cuts hair inside the shelter and sells pirated DVDs on the street while she hawks odds and ends from discount stores. In a good month, their combined efforts can bring in a few hundred dollars.

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This is not one of those times. Supreme is keeping tight control of the family’s welfare income — $1,285 in food stamps and $1,122 in survivor benefits for his first wife’s death. He refuses to give Chanel cash for laundry.

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Mar 8
Anthony Ruiz (Mar 08 2016 9:09AM) : In this paragraph supreme is being really selfish to Chanel in the laundry. more

What i see in this paragraph is that supreme is not being gender-rest and give Chanel some cash for the laundry.

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Soon, all of Dasani’s uniforms are stained. At school, she is now wearing donated clothes and her hair is unkempt, inviting the dreaded designation of “nappy.” Rumors are circulating about where she lives. Only six of the middle school’s 157 students reside in shelters.

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When the truth about Dasani emerges, she does nothing to contradict it. She is a proud girl. She must find a way to turn the truth, like other unforeseeable calamities, in her favor.

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She begins calling herself “ghetto.” She dares the girls to fight her and challenges the boys to arm-wrestle, flexing the biceps she has built doing pull-ups in Fort Greene Park. The boys watch slack-jawed as Dasani demonstrates the push-ups she has also mastered, earning her the nickname “muscle girl.”

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Her teachers are flummoxed. They assume that she has shed her uniform because she is trying to act tough. In fact, the reverse is true.

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Achilly, November wind whips across Auburn Place, rustling the plastic cover of a soiled mattress in a trash bin outside the shelter. Chanel and Supreme stand nearby, waiting for their children to come from school. They are still short on cash. The children had pitched in $5.05, from collecting cans and bottles over the weekend.

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Chanel inspects the mattress. Clean, it might fetch $10. But it is stained with feces. Janitors wearing masks and gloves had removed it from a squalid room where three small children lived, defecating on the floor. Their mother rarely bathed them, and they had no shoes on the day she gathered them in a hurry and left.

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“You can smell it?” Chanel asks Supreme.

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“No, I can see it,” he says, curling his lip.

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“Those are the people that they need to be calling A.C.S. on,” Chanel says. At the shelter, the abbreviation for the Administration for Children’s Services is uttered with the same kind of alarm that the C.I.A. can stoke overseas.

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“Nasty girl,” Chanel says, scrunching her nose.

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