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.