Troop 6000 may seem like any other Girl Scout troop, but there's one big difference: It’s based in a shelter in Queens, New York, and all of its current members—and troop leaders—are homeless.
Giselle Burgess, the Troop 6000 program manager and one of its three leaders, is a single mom of five who lost her home in August of 2016. She helped create the troop in February with the help of the Department of Homeless Services. “My family lives here in the shelter with the rest of the girls,” she explained. “We all share the same feeling of constantly wondering when we will have a home again.”
They’re not alone in that feeling. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, homelessness in New York City has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression. In April 2017, there were 23,000 children in the shelter system.
“When I first arrived at the shelter, all the girls who lived here barely spoke to each other,” Burgess says. “They had the mentality of ‘I won’t be here long and won’t make friends,’ and I wanted to do something to make the situation easier.” The troop started with only eight girls, including three of Burgess’s kids. Word spread quickly, and membership then ballooned to 25 scouts ranging in age from 5 to 15. Burgess’s daughter Hailey, 14, says being a Scout has changed her life. “I learned to be an advocate for girls and the homeless,” she says.
The companionship is so important, since homelessness can impact girls’ confidence in a huge way. “My daughters were ashamed,” Burgess explains. “They didn’t want anyone to think they were dirty, and they worried about people treating them differently.”
Burgess plans to expand the program to a total of 15 sites. For now, she hopes the media focus on the group, which has been featured on NBC News, and NPR, and in The New York Times, will help correct stereotypes of people living in shelters. Or, as Burgess’s 12- year-old daughter, Karina, puts it: “Just because we’re homeless doesn’t mean we’re crazy— we’re all just regular people.”
To find out how to support Troop 6000, visit girlscoutsnyc.org