Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Monday night I didn't get to sleep until 3.30 in the morning. No, it wasn't a horrible case of sleep regression (knock wood). Instead, I was participating in the NYC HOPE Count. It was enlightening and troubling at the same time.

I work for an organization that tries to improve the plight of those in poverty in NYC, and so understanding homelessness, to include street homelessness, is important. So despite the fact that I was at home and ready to go to bed at 10pm, instead I hopped a cab downtown and spent 6 hours canvassing the streets for our homeless neighbors.

Our team surveyed about 8 city blocks and a subway station. The team at the subway station just north or ours (same line) had this to share: "we went into the 23rd st subway station (A/C line) and saw two people underneath a blanket on a few cardboard pieces in the area outside the turnstiles. There were a few backpacks and scattered personal items, but it seemed at first like the two people were asleep. Then we heard some Spanish so tried to start a conversation. At first hesitant, the man under the blanket started speaking English. We learned that the couple had been together for a very long time and that the woman, Veronica, was pregnant. After being told about the possibility of staying in a shelter last night, he was nervous that they would be separated. We made some calls and figured out that they could and would be taken to a family shelter across town at 33rd and 1st at which they would stay together since they were a family and Veronica was expecting. We called the van service and after a short wait during which time we learned that they found the subway much better than sleeping by the river in East Harlem, we got them loaded into the van with all of their things and transported safely to a shelter."

So in case you all missed it, the woman sleeping on the street was pregnant. With a baby.

Now I know that, for those of us in the "not really all that fertile" camp, it can raise hackles when you hear of people who are clearly not well equipped to care for a child getting pregnant easily, but putting that aside for a moment, even though we may judge her for her choices and actions, we can in no way judge her child. No child asks to born to a homeless woman sleeping in the subway. None of the over 50% of children born in NYC who are born into poverty ask to be poor and to live with families that struggle. Yet because of that poverty, the experience of those children during their first, formative year(s) are likely quite different than what B has to date experienced. And that just breaks my heart.

I don't really have much of a point, and I'm not sure where this was all going, but it just catches me in the back of the throat every time I think of the thousands of kids in NYC in shelters every night or the mothers trying their hardest to keep their kids from being hungry. I wish I believed that these kids actually had a shot to emerge out of their modest beginnings and lead better lives, but right now, I'm just not sure they do. I know too much about how important a stable, loving environment is for babies, and how hard it is for very poor or homeless parents to provide that, to believe that these kids will actually develop as well as their wealthier and more stably raised peers. And the unfairness, and to some extent the randomness, is very hard for me to understand.


  1. Homelessness is a big problem in Washington state too. I was watching it on the news last night. Its one of my worst fears to be homeless.

  2. Wow. First, massive kudos to you for being a person who does something instead of just feeling bad about the situation. It's so admirable. I was just reading a paper about differences in kids' ability to pay attention as a function of SES, and these effects start really early. It's all so horrible, and so complicated. It seems like social scientists are completely frustrated with trying to figure out how to address the issues or even figure out where to start. But making a difference in a few lives, well, at least you're doing that.

  3. Yes, kudos to you for making a difference. Thank you.

    And I hear you. It breaks my heart too, especially now that M is in my life. And it makes me angry. We are a ridiculously wealthy country and yet so many kids live in poverty. I almost shake in anger at the impoverished who vote for politicians that share their religion not don't do a thing to improve their lives, and in fact make it worse. Our schools are failing on so many levels, but education is vilified these days. Add in the hunger, the homelessness, the lack of health care...

  4. It's inhumanly unfair. And when idiocies like, "I'm not worried about the very poor" slip out of campaigners' mouths, it becomes clear just why there are so many homeless and so many living below the poverty line. (As an aside, when we were preparing my husband's green card application I learned what the "poverty line" is...this, too, is unbelievable to me).

    A friend used to work at the Department of Homeless Services. The increase in numbers is heartbreaking, particularly the increase in the numbers of families. MANY of whom want to work and are used to working, but have fallen on hard times in this $hitty economy. All they need is a decent break and a system that wants to help them, neither of which is anywhere in evidence.

    Good for you for doing this. And I think any mother who loves her child wants that child to grow up in a world where other children are given the same start and opportunities. Simply because it's a BETTER world for all (including our own children).