The Girl Scouts of Greater New York in New York City assign numbers to troops based on which of the five boroughs they are located. Troops in the Bronx are numbered in the 1000s, those in Brooklyn are in the 2000s, and so on.

But with roughly 60,000 people experiencing homelessness in New York, there are girls who don’t have a fixed residence, but still want – and deserve – to learn the leadership skills that joining the Girl Scouts of America provides.

Not to worry.

In February, Girls Scouts created Troop 6000, designed to exclusively serve girls in New York’s shelter system, the New York Times reports.   

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All 21 of the troops’ current members reside in a Sleep Inn in Queens, which houses about 100 homeless families – and it’s just the beginning.

“We’re just getting started, but our long-term goal is to expand this program across New York City so that each week, on the same day and at the same time, Troop 6000 will meet in shelters across the city,” Girl Scouts said on the organization’s website. “Meetings will be led by trained troop leaders – women also living in the Shelter System.”

“We’re starting a chain reaction,” Hailey Burgess, a proud Troop 6000 member told the Times. “Hopefully, in the next couple years, there will be more Girl Scout troops in shelters.”

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Troop 6000 is the brainchild of Giselle Burgess, a community engagement specialist for Girls Scouts of Greater New York, who is also experiencing homelessness.

A single mother of five (Hailey is one of three daughters in the troop), she became homeless last August when her building was sold to make way for condominiums. While she makes too much money to receive assistance, she struggles to earn enough to support a family of six.

When she pitched Troop 6000 to her bosses, they jumped at it.  

“They said: ‘Are you kidding me? Absolutely. Go for it,” Burgess said.

Working in tandem with the homeless services department and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the Queens neighborhood in which the Sleep Inn is located and who experienced homelessness himself, Troop 6000 is now a reality.

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While Burgess is working on the ground, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is attempting to tackle homelessness through government action.

In February, he unveiled a five-year plan to reduce the number of people living in New York’s shelter system by 2,500 people. The plan calls for 90 new shelters and aims to expand 30 current ones while moving away from the 360 “cluster sites and hotel facilities” currently housing homeless individuals.

The number of New Yorkers living in shelters more than doubled between 1994 and 2014, according to the report, due in large part to wages failing to keep up with rents. In addition to short-term solutions, like providing greater access to housing, Mayor de Blasio’s plan will address the root causes of homelessness by providing, “career counselors, mental health and substance use disorder counselors and other services on site.”

Of the roughly 60,000 people experiencing homelessness in New York City, more than 22,000 of them are children, according to the most recent data. Of the 287 people housed at the Sleep Inn, 155 of them are under 18 years old.

While government action can help provide for material needs, Girl Scouts develops the character traits that will help girls face the daily challenges that come with homelessness.

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Troop 6000 is not the first time Girls Scouts have served less fortunate communities. During the past 30 years, troops have formed in shelters in Atlanta, Broward County, Florida, and San Pedro, California, according to the Times. In the 1990s, the organization reached out to young women in homeless shelters and treatment centers in Westchester and Putnam counties, just north of New York City.

While Girl Scouts serves a noble purpose of building confidence and self-esteem among girls, like most organizations, it can still suffer the pitfalls of unequal access.

Joining the Girl Scouts of Greater New York includes a $25 membership fee, plus $75 for a starter kit (e.g. patches and vests) plus $20 per month in dues. For girls in families trying to get back on their feet, these costs can shut down whatever dreams they have of earning badges for community service.  

Troop 6000 is an example in ending that inequality: Girl Scouts of Greater New York is covering all costs, and accepting donations to keep the troop going.  

Clearly, it’s about much more than cookies.


Demand Equity

There’s a New Girl Scout Troop Just For Homeless Girls in NYC

By James O'Hare