During my school years, up until high school, I belonged to the Girl Scouts. I have many memories of being a scout, particularly the camping trips. We were known as the camping troop in our area, and had several outings a year. So when I think of my time in the Girl Scouts I remember setting up tents, roasting marshmallows over the campfire for S’mores while singing camp songs, cabins in the mountains, telling spooky stories while huddled in a sleeping bag, laughing until my sides hurt over the silliest things. Good memories.
So an article about a Girl Scout troop who were homeless caught my attention. What a wonderful opportunity for those girls. Giselle Burgess started Troop 6000 — the first ever troop of homeless girls — in February, and the girls, who had never been out of the city, got to experience the wonders of the wilderness.
So how many kids are homeless in America? That’s hard to say. Per a study conducted by the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children, the estimate is 1.7 million. But there is a caveat to the number — the study was conducted in 1999, which is reaching the point of irrelevancy due to the number of years since the study was conducted. The most recent data collected by the U.S. Department of Education indicates numbers less than the 1.7 million, putting it closer to the 1 million range; however, the data collected is only if the kids are attending classes and participating fully in school activities. It does not count children who are staying with a friend or relative outside their immediate family and does not count those who are not in school. In 2014, the National Center on Family Homelessness released a report estimating the number of homeless children in America to be a heartbreaking 2.5 million. The report identifies six major causes contributing to the unprecedented rate of child homelessness: high poverty rates, lack of affordable housing, racial disparities, challenges of single parenting, domestic violence and other traumatic experiences, and the lingering effects of the recession.
What makes this Girl Scout troop even more incredible is that all of the girls in the troop live in the same 10-story budget hotel in Queens, where New York City’s Department of Homeless Services pays to shelter homeless families. Including Giselle Burgess and her five children. Burgess lost her home last year when the landlord sold the building and has had difficulty finding a new place to live because potential landlords are not willing to take on a single mother with five children. Burgess, who was working for the Girl Scouts of Greater New York as a community development specialist, looked at her situation and saw an opportunity. And the Girl Scouts fully supported Burgess’s endeavor. Troop 6000 has been such a success, the New York City government announced it will invest $1.1 million to expand Troop 6000 from twenty-eight girls at one shelter to as many as 500 girls at 15 shelters across the city.
I salute Giselle Burgess for taking a stand to improve the lives of these girls and for helping to eliminate some of the stigma for them about being homeless — something completely out of their control. For giving the girls a sense of worth and accomplishment in a difficult situation. And for teaching the girls that the difficult times “are just seasons in their lives. And that they will surpass it, and that there’s much more out there that they’re capable of accomplishing.”