Unless you’ve spent time in a homeless shelter, you wouldn’t know what soul-killing places they can be (despite best efforts of stellar shelter operators).
Unless you were a mother with children living in a homeless shelter (or in other homeless circumstances), you might not grasp the dark cloud that hangs over you, even on good days.
Unless you experienced homelessness as a kid, you might not appreciate the rare small and large joys that come your way from an unusual experience like Girl Scouts.
I’m trying to be kind and forgive Samuel G. Freedman’s harsh criticism of the new book, Troop 6000, by Nikita Stewart. It’s obvious that his knowledge of family homelessness is equal to his knowledge of Girl Scouts. That he felt the need to tear into Troop 6000 — the book, but also the the lives of women in Troop 6000 — is unfortunate. He underestimates the value of Girl Scouts in the lives of this amazing troop, kids and adults. And he lacks any sense of what it took to make this phenomenal milestone happen.
I pointed out his errors in my Medium post on June 22, but my dismazement has continued to swirl around in my brain. Among other things, he denigrated Ms. Stewart’s efforts, saying,
“The instability of homelessness presents a challenge to any journalist or author portraying it. How does one accurately depict incessant disorder without the writing itself turning disorderly? Stewart has not solved that problem.”
If writing about something disorderly, as homelessness certainly is, begets disorder, so be it. It’s like criticizing someone who got mud-covered by covering a story of mud wrestling. It would be disingenuous if the story were neat and clean. On the contrary, Ms. Stewart, despite not being homeless (I’m assuming) or a Girl Scout, did an impressive and credible job painting the picture of homelessness — of those involved in the startup of Troop 6000 — and as experienced by millions of kids and parents across the country. She also adeptly captured the various aspects of Girl Scouts in action.
The book’s painful account of family homelessness accomplishes much more than Mr. Freedman seems to have grasped. Rarely does a nonfiction book about family homelessness appeal to general readers. Even more uncommon, Ms. Stewart managed to not sensationalize any of the women and girls in this account, rather showing their frustrations and human foibles in a balanced way. Her description of the issues of family homelessness — unfamiliar territory for most readers — was fair and accurate. She even managed to clearly explain the rights of students in homeless situations to attend school, an issue I’ve been intimately involved with for decades.
The gallant efforts of Giselle Burgess and her friends to start and maintain a Girl Scout Troop in their shelter — while homeless — deserve all the attention they got, and then some! Their endeavor to expand this wonderful opportunity to shelters across New York City raises their determination and passion to another level. Ms. Stewart described their accomplishments, unfolding with the ups and downs. Anyone familiar with Girl Scouts will appreciate the references about badges and campfires, cranky girls and frolicking at camp.
The book certainly made the case for establishing Girl Scout troops at shelters everywhere. As someone who ran shelters for 15 years, I can attest to the need for a positive focus for girls whose strengths need encouragement at what is a tough time of their young lives. To do so will unleash a powerful force of good!
The unenlightened criticisms leveled at this book by Mr. Freedman reflect the idiom of standing on the roof and tearing open a feather pillow — you can’t undo it. I don’t know if he’d want to — I’ve written to him and suggested he needs to revisit the book, his criticisms, and perhaps apologize.
A good sign of his sincere repentance would be recognized if he would:
- Write an article about the difficulties women face when they end up pregnant and lack resources to adequately support children.
- Examine the role of women in raising families despite lack of child support, financial or otherwise.
- Identify the logistical and financial challenges a single mother with children encounters with employment, child care, housing, health care, transportation and more. Include a look at the abysmally inadequate social safety network here in America.
- Spend time in a family shelter and observe the chaos, but also the kindness that is present.
- Research the causes of skyrocketing family homelessness and identify the causes. Here’s a link to make that easier.
For those who want to read about a real shero, this interview (@FotisGeorgiadis) of my good friend and colleague Barbara Duffield will give you insights into family homelessness that will inform and inspire you. She also listed ACTIONS that will make a difference. Truth be told, Barbara was never a Girl Scout, but she’s one of my favorite people in the world, and I’d walk barefoot across a campfire for her.