Homeless for the Holidays

Witnessing the lives of NYC's Homeless LGBT Youth

by Carl Siciliano

 

The holiday season is always a challenging season at the Ali Forney Center. To be blunt, it is a time when homeless youths tend to be most depressed, and their risk of suicide escalates. This holiday season is especially challenging, as we are dealing with the devastating loss of our drop-in center from Hurricane Sandy. We have been heartened by the overwhelming response of support we have received from the community. And we hope that the attention received from our drop-in center's plight will lead to a stronger resolve to alleviate the plight of the young people served there; the homeless LGBT youths who are out on the street waiting for shelter beds.

This is among the most terrible expressions of homophobia in our time.

As LGBT youth come out at younger ages, thousands are driven from their homes by rejecting families, and forced to endure homelessness and destitution.

In New York City, the statistics are horrifying. LGBT youth make up 40% of the homeless youth population, comprising 1,600 of NYC's 3,800 homeless youth. And NYC's response is even more horrifying; only 250 youth shelter beds are provided by the city, forcing many youths to sleep in subways, park benches, abandoned buildings and rooftops.

But statistics don't adequately express the horror of what these youths endure. They don't express the suffering these kids go through;  the psychological torment of being rejected, feeling unloved, alone and terrified, or the physical torment of the cold, exposure to the elements, hunger and chronic sleep deprivation.

I want to wake our city up to this atrocity that goes on in our midst, of these thousands of kids left out alone on the streets without shelter beds.So I have been spending time with these youths, photographing them in the spaces where they try to make it through the nights, listening and recording them tell of what they suffer. Allowing them to show us and tell us what they go through.

The Ali Forney Center has joined a number of other LGBT advocates and providers in creating The Campaign for Youth Shelter, which calls on the City to commit to a plan to add 100 youth shelter beds per year until such time as there are no longer waiting lists at the youth shelters. Alas, our Mayor refuses to discuss this; instead he tries every year to cut the few shelter beds. In 2012 he proposed reducing the number of youth shelter beds by 60%, forcing the New York City Council to fight to restore the few beds available.

In response we have organized rallies, initiated letter-writing and email campaigns, gotten the LGBT political clubs to sign on to statements in support of our plan. So far to no avail.

For now, with this project, all I am asking is for as many people as possible to open ourselves to these kids' lives, and listen to them. Please try to empathize with what it is like to be young, abandoned, and alone on the streets of our city. What they have to say is painful and disturbing to hear. But they need us to listen. The only call to action I am asking for in response is to share their stories as much as you possibly can.

We need to ask ourselves why, in this great city where so much wealth and power and talent is concentrated, why must so many of our abandoned youths be forced to endure homelessness without adequate shelter beds? Only when enough of us are ashamed and outraged to have our youths be so terribly mistreated and neglected will there be the political will to provide the resources to shelter them.

So please share their stories, and try to find a place for these kids in your thoughts and in your hearts.

Executive Director, Carl Siciliano

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