New York's Invisible Child

New York Times reporter Andrea Elliot discusses her profile of Dasani, a homeless girl in New York City.
3:00 | 12/15/13

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Transcript for New York's Invisible Child
A major piece of investigative journalism over a year in the making, played out on the front pages of the "new york times" this week, the series, the invisible child brought a dasani, a 12-year-old homeless girl on the streets of new york city to life. Meet dasani. This is dasani, named after the bottled water, because to her mother it signified luxury. She's a proud 4'8" 12-year-old girl. Among 22,000 strong that are homeless in new york city and this is what passes for a home, a 520-square-foot room shared with her parents and seven siblings in a dilapidated city-run shelter. I am going to college. Schools a place where dasani can escape. Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. I'm not cute or built to suit a fashion model's size. Dasani has boundless energy, she dreams big, even her dreams are clouded by the despair that surrounds her. In your imagination, what does the perfect childhood look like? Quiet. Flowers everywhere. Mom and dad always talked about a perfect childhood. Yeah, mom and dad can be drunk in a perfect childhood. You think being drunk is part of the perfect childhood? Yes, because when they are anything, they tell you can do it. You really think a perfect childhood -- you said use my imagination. I used it. That voice was the "new york times" journalist, andrea elliott. Andrea joins us now. I have to say, an extraordinary piece of journalism, maybe the most remarkable thing I have read this year. Thank you. Thank you for joining us. Dasani, a remarkable young girl. She is. She is a remarkable girl. I would argue that her circumstances are less remarkable, because of the sheer size of this population, but this kid is curious, funny. Her resilience was something that I really was curious about myself, how strength played a role in getting her through her day-to-day life. And grown up. I mean, she's 11 years old for most of the time you spent with her. But she's kind of a surrogate parent. She is. After spending a year -- more than a year with this family, was seeing how the very qualities that potentially could help her escape her circumstances -- her strength, her resilience, her her intelligence -- are also things that have been indispensable of carrying the family forward. She's relied upon to hold it together. This family struggles with a lot of problems, and so, the irony of her strength in the way that become a weakness. And you -- you know, you talk about how that number caught your eye, 22,000 homeless children, this is put in context, they couldn't all fit in madison square garden. Right. But yet, this is invisible side of homelessness. We don't see these children as much. It's true, I find it really striking how, when I was with them, kind of just in their daily lives in new york city, how easily they remain on the margins and sort of in the shadows of city life, and part of it has to do with the fact, i think the experience of poverty in the united states is one that is more subtle than in other places that I have covered. So, in new york city, a lot of the garments, the clothing garments that are donated, that find their way to this family come from household of means. So, the children will be wearing used uggs and patagonia sweaters. Poverty doesn't wear itself in such an obvious way and yet, what I think the family would say about that is, it makes more superior than poverty in other countries, when you consider the incredible gap what these children have and what they need in order to thrive. This child, dasani, and her siblings, is really gifted. She's an amazing athlete, great dancer, had she be borne into other circumstances she would be thriving. But she's merely surviving. Describe the conditions. Describe the circumstances inside a family homeless shelter. There is some 300 people living in this shelter. So, this is a shelter that is run by the city, and most shelters in new york city are actually run by nonprofits. But this shelter is definitely one that struggles with a lot of terrible conditions in a sense that there's mold on the walls, mice in their room, they were laying out traps every night and shooting video of the mice they would catch. They had to hang their food from a plastic bag from the ceiling, the food was served rancid. Two of the children are asthmatic. One is legally blind. They shared this small space with, you know, ten people basically, doubled up on mattresses, in one small space for years. But I think that kind of compressed experience of living would make any family fall apart. Incredible, and the photographs really bring it to life. But you're a mom, you got two young children. This is not like any other story. This had to affect you, especially a year, 15 months. It's very much opened my eyes, also as a new yorker, to a different experience of this city. And this is kind of where I came away with it again and again, was just the sense of, while new york is very much a place defined by what's out of reach, I mean -- most people feel there's something out of reach when they're living in new york, an apartment, or a job, but this is an population where everything is out of reach. I think that's what struck me the most being with these children day in and day out. And just thinking about how that experience is replicated, tens of thousands of times in this homeless population, but also by millions across the country, this sense that this is a country that is filled with promise that isn't for them. That isn't something that's attainable by them. And just, we're almost out of time, I can't imagine you're going to leave this story behind, I mean, I can tell from watching the tape, you've become close to this girl and her family. I remain a journalist. My role is as a journalist, the reporting -- when you're reporting on children it's a very different thing. You really do have to connect with them and talk about their feelings and their experiences in a way that draws them out and she's a very vocal child. I do continue to -- I hope to continue to follow them, yes. All right, andrea elliott, again, an extraordinary piece of journalism and a really important one. Thank you. Don't go anywhere. We have to take a quick break.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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