I’m thinking about this article I read last month about homeless children in New York City. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I read it the first time. The article is about a homeless family living in a public shelter in NYC, and mostly focuses on the oldest child of the family, Dasani.
I went back and read some of the comments today, and the thing that struck me was that almost all the comments talk about the parents, and their choices, and about Dasani, and no one really talks about the conditions of the shelter described in the article — broken pipes, holes in walls, non-working toilets, the list went on and on.
I am appalled at these conditions and that human beings are expected to live in them. I don’t understand how this building can fail inspection multiple times, and yet nothing is done. How can the people of New York City in good conscience allow this to go on?
It reminds me of an Ursula K. Le Guin story, about a city named Omelas. This city is perfect — the children are healthy, the climate is perfect, the adults all have fulfilling work to do, they have fun and colorful holidays where the parades are never rained on, they never argue, the houses are lovely and the pipes never break, in short it is the perfect place to live. How is this possible, you ask? Well, there is a catch. In a dank broom closet, a small child lives who never sees the light of day and never leaves the closet. He or she (it is not clear in the story) is fed just enough to stay alive, is not cleaned, and is left alone. Nothing can be done for this child, because if the child is fed and cleaned, then the perfection of Omelas will come to an end. The good of the many is weighed against the good of the one. The rite of passage to adulthood for the young people of Omelas is to be shown this child. All are horrified, some rant against the system, almost all go back into the sunshine to live their perfect lives. A few, a very few, walk out of Omelas, never to return. Are the homeless children of New York that poor child of Omelas?