When the Ali Forney Center first opened its doors ten years ago this week, there was simply no safe shelter for homeless LGBT kids in New York City. The only existing youth shelter was run by the Catholic Church and LGBT kids who sought shelter there were routinely mistreated and gay bashed. With nowhere safe to turn, many kids slept in parks and the subways. Most turned to prostitution, what those of us who work with these kids call survival sex, trading sex for shelter. These young people struggled to survive in dangerous, squalid, humiliating situations.
I had been running a drop in center for homeless youth and frequently had to arrange burial services for the kids found murdered on the streets. Ali Forney was one of many young people I know who were killed as they tried to make it through the night. When the Ali Forney Center opened its doors on June 19, 2002. I had no idea if we would survive. We just had one substantial donor and a church offering us free use of their basement, where we provided six cots.
Ten years later I am filled with gratitude for the response we have achieved from the LGBT community, and many of our allies. This response has allowed the Ali Forney Center to become a remarkable success; we have become the largest and most comprehensive organization dedicated to homeless LGBT youth in the country. We now offer emergency shelter and longer term housing with a combined total of 77 beds in nine different residential facilities. We also offer two drop-in centers where we are able to provide food, clothing, showers, free medical and mental health care, and educational and vocational assistance, including thousands of kids who have flocked to us for help from all over the country and the world. And, after these ten years, I am full of pride for the success of so many of our kids. I rejoice in seeing how with the proper nurturing and support they are able to find the strength to overcome the most terrible mistreatment. Seeing many go to college, get jobs, and move out on their own is nothing short of a triumph over the most toxic effects of rejection.
I am very happy to share that thanks to the generosity of the Calamus Foundation, all new and increased donations to AFC will be matched dollar for dollar to enable us to open the nation's first 24 Hour Drop In Center for homeless LGBT youth. If you would like to help us achieve this goal, please consider making a donation. Any donation, large or small, will bring us one step closer to providing 24 hour services for the more than 200 young people on our waiting list. Click here for the donation page.
I thank all of our remarkably dedicated volunteers, staff, board members and donors who have stood by our side and helped us show our kids that they are worthy of being loved and protected. The community of caring that has grown around the Ali Forney Center fills me with deep gratitude. I hope that together we can work for a day when every child can be loved and accepted for who they are, and no child is forced to endure homelessness on our streets.