Read Dasani’s Story

Dickensian Squalor in Contemporary New York

There was a lot of jokey-snark Sunday night as Twitter was trying to guess what the New York Times’ big blockbuster story was going to be on Monday morning. A Times editor had Tweeted that a game-changing story was coming, but offered no hints. 

The story itself is a heartbreaking one about a bright and energetic 11 year-old girl who lives in poverty and squalor with her family in a dilapidated, uninhabitable city shelter.  We follow her to school, we examine her home, we look at her parents and their obvious problems in such a way that eschews cheap judgment and instead gives us a window into the crushing poverty, desperate need for help, jobs, and education that families like this need. 

It also describes the insane class divide where homes within spitting distance of the shelter and adjacent projects now go for a million dollars; where a fancy new wine shop offers tastings across the street from a liquor store where the clerk sits behind bullet-proof plexiglass. 

Please read all five parts of the story, which will take you on an emotional roller coaster, and consider whether, in our zeal for austerity, we’re causing more problems than we’re solving. 

Some “richest country in the world” superpower we are. 


  • There is a calculated effort by many on the right to use the poor as a wedge issue. Blaming “those” people especially minorities for our economic problems is a great way to rally the base and keep the masses distracted from the real problem, the greed and arrogance of the entitled class. The poor are chump change in the big picture, barely registering on the economic scale. One half of our population share just 1% of our nations wealth, that doesn’t bode well for a dynamic economy or civil society.
    Only 4% of poor children will ever make it to the top 20%, without mentors or role models there is little hope for those born into poverty. On the other hand, being born into wealth will pretty much guarantees a continuation of that entitlement. Poverty is a serious structural problem without easy fixes, the right continues to blame the victim ignoring the deep complexity of the issue.

  • Thanks, Alan, for sharing this. I’ve only read part one and I am riveted. As a child growing up with immigrant parents on the east side, we were pretty poor and lived simply. But nothing even close to what this little girl has to endure. It gives me pause to think and appreciate the good things I have in life and how truly fortunate I am.

  • Had a guy wrapped up in a blanket sleeping under a spruce tree at our building here in Allentown this morning. I see people living under the overpasses throughout the city as well, these are the visible homeless, there are countless others holed up in vacant houses or other concealed locations. Several years ago I was restoring my home, my neighbor told me that when I locked the (vacant) house each night a car would park in my driveway. A young couple with a baby would borrow this car to sleep in for the night and then they would return it in the morning. A neighbor let them use a garden hose to wash up and take care of the baby. This is the reality for many, it doesn’t take much to become homeless and there are many with nobody to turn to when in need. It is too easy to say “get a job” or my favorite “they just don’t value education”, the truth is much more complicated.

    • “But they’re lazy and smelly and didn’t get the same advantages of growing up in a middle class neighborhood I did- drug test them and take away their food stamps!!!!!1111111111111111111111”

  • 8 children begot by drug addicts? Let’s start there.

    • Entire communities in pretty much every major city segregated and cut off from quality schools and jobs that pay a living wage, let’s start there instead.

  • I read it and it was like watching a car crash. Nothing in it was surprising because I’ve lived on both sides of the edge of poverty my whole life. Its easy for most to turn their backs to it because at least its not them.

  • Good work by The Times on this reporting; I’ve had my fill of jaundiced, glib stories about people redecorating their 7-figure Manhattan digs and ski chalets.

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