At 16 years old Michael was hospitalized after severe bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts. Through in-patient treatment Michael found the courage to come out to his family only to have them disown him and refuse to let him back home. Michael was devastated. He was forced to live with relatives for several weeks only to be met with the same homophobia. Shortly after his 17th birthday Michael ran away to live on the streets, where he found himself doing things he never thought he would do. He resorted to drug use to cope with his new reality.
After several months, one of AFC's outreach workers found him on the streets where he offered Michael food, warm clothing and connected Michael to our 24 Hour Drop In Center. Michael, like many homeless LGBT youth, was now severely mentally unstable, dependent on drugs and engaging in sex work to survive. After arriving at our center, Michael was enrolled in substance abuse counseling, scheduled to see a doctor and meeting with a case manager who was not only helping Michael find alternatives to sex work but also helping to build Michael's self esteem and affirming his LGBT identity.
Today, Michael is sober, enrolled in school and living at one of our housing sites. He plans to attend college to become a case manager to help other youth like him. Michael's road to recovery has been a very difficult one. The scars of his time on the streets will take time to heal and our staff will be there every step of the way.
Dalia was 17 when her mother discovered she was in a relationship with another girl. Without warning her mother packed all her belongings into a trash bag and left them on the doorsteps of their apartments in the Bronx. Her mother refused to reason with her telling her that if she was a lesbian she was not allowed in her home. During the months that Dalia was living on the streets, she engaged in some risky behavior – as many homeless youth do to survive. One john she spent the night with had her worried. She came to the Ali Forney Center’s Drop-In Center asking for information on HIV. Our health coordinator met with Dalia and had an honest conversation about why Dalia was scared. He agreed that she should get tested. Luckily, they didn’t have to go far. Our on-site health center had an opening that afternoon. Dalia was tested and her diagnosis was confirmed: She was HIV positive. Given how unstable Dalia’s life was, our health coordinator had to act quickly and get her all of the supports she needed. Dalia was given a bed in our Emergency Housing Program and was paired with a case manager and scheduled an appointment with our on-site psychiatrist. Our medical team prescribed her anti-retroviral drugs. Within a week, Dalia was fully caring for her HIV and herself.
“No son of mine is gay.” Those were the last words that Wilson’s dad spoke to him before slamming the door in his face. Wilson came to the Ali Forney Center’s Drop-In Center and was very ill. He had an injury that became infected -- and required surgery. Our case manager took Wilson to the hospital and -- with no one else to care for him -- signed on as his emergency contact. Upon his release from the hospital, we placed him in our Emergency Housing Program. He then moved into Transitional Housing and started working towards his undergraduate degree. Five years later, Wilson graduated from college and is currently enrolled in law school. He just recently completed an internship abroad working with refugees in conflict-ridden countries.
David struggled with his weight whole life. Once he became homeless, his self-esteem plummeted. To cope with his parent’s rejection of his gay identity, David found comfort in food. When he first moved into one of Ali Forney’s Transitional Living apartments, our case managers tried to draw him out of his shell. A quiet young man, David hid inside of 4XL sweatshirts and never met eyes. After a few months of working with his case manager, David revealed that his weight, especially as a gay man, was a source of deep shame. We helped David become a member of the local gym. Committed to fitness, David's weight began to drop and so did his shell. His case manager helped him find a personal training program --- and now David is helping others get in shape.
For years, the question “am I gay?” gnawed at him. If he came out, he’d be shunned by his community - and maybe even beaten or killed. He came out and his fears bore true -- he was persecuted because of his identity. Thomas fled to the United States. For 3 years he bounced from youth shelter to youth shelter. He was harassed and tormented but Thomas thought it was better than the violence and fear he was subjected to in his home country. Eventually, Thomas found the Ali Forney Center. Even though he qualified for benefits, Thomas couldn’t access them because of his immigration status. Returning home was not an option for Thomas -- he would be killed. Our staff helped Thomas get asylum from his home country and placed him in our transitional living program. With no family in the United States, crucial to Thomas’ success was pairing him with a LIFE Coach, a mentor to help guide him into independence. Thomas graduated from our transitional living program and is now a full-time supervisor at a cosmetics store. His LIFE Coach has become his American family.
Samuel came out at 16 and his parents promptly disowned him. He found the Ali Forney Center and was placed in our emergency housing. Samuel successfully completed that program and moved into transitional housing. Over those two years, Samuel found a job and found support in his LIFE Coach, Roger. With no family of his own to turn to, Roger was Samuel’s touchstone - taking him out for dinner on his birthday, calling him to check in and serving a consistent, trustworthy adult for advice and support. Samuel graduated from transitional living with flying colors. His dream was to travel and he set out to find a career that would allow him to see the world. His dream was fulfilled when he was hired to work for a travel company. Roger continues to be Samuel’s rock, sending along his mail and keeping in touch.
Brayden was one of AFC’s first clients. When he came out to his mother, she became so enraged that she violently ripped out a piece of his scalp. With no other choice, Brayden had fled from his home fearing for his life. He spent weeks sleeping in the streets of New York City.
He moved into our emergency housing in October of 2002, months after the shelter first opened. Brayden was brave – but a close look into his eyes revealed pain. His mother’s abuse and abandonment deeply traumatized him. Brayden was with us for our first Thanksgiving. As we went around the table expressing our gratitude, he said how thankful he was to be with people who accepted him for who he was.
After Brayden moved on, he kept in touch with AFC staff. He was thriving and showed early signs of wanting to become an advocate. He co-authored the LGBT policies for the New York City foster care system.
Brayden was accepted into college, and upon graduating worked with other young people to help them prepare for their GED exam. Brayden was accepted into Law School and moved to Portland, OR with his partner. He was deeply committed to his studies and graduated with his J.D. in 2013.
Recently he shared his story with others and told a bravely told a large crowd about that day when his mother had attacked him. As he was running from her down the stairs of their apartment building, blood pouring from his wounded scalp, his mother shouted at him "You'll be back, the faggots will never take care of you." Brayden shared that the Ali Forney Center had proved her wrong.
“My name is Margo. My mom evicted me from my home when I was 19 because I am transgender. For two years, I tried to survive without a stable living situation. Then I came to New York City to start over and get my life back. I found the Ali Forney Center and learned about the LEAP program. LEAP really taught me about how to get a job - and keep it. After weeks of practicing for the National Work Readiness Credential exam, I passed! I knew that if I could find a job that I would definitely use the skills that I learned in the workplace. I finally received an interview for a beauty associate position at a national pharmacy. I remember having the phone interview at AFC. In LEAP, we reviewed possible interview questions so the interview questions were easier than expected. After two more interviews - with LEAP staff never far away - I was hired! I hope to work my way up the company ladder with my hard work and motivation for success.”
Cora’s family moved from South America when she was 6 years old. Cora was born male but from a young age felt she was born into the wrong body. Behind closed doors Cora would wear her mother’s dresses, make-up and jewelry. One day when she was 12, Cora’s mother caught her wearing a dress and make up. Her mother beat her, telling her that if she ever dressed as a woman again she would be thrown out of the home. Cora lived in fear knowing that her mother did not accept her. In the years following this incident Cora’s mom subjected her to daily abuse and demanded that she “act like a man.” Knowing her mother’s resentment Cora ran away from home and took to living in the streets of the Bronx where other homeless women of transgender experience survive by engaging in sex work. Cora reluctantly sold her body in exchange for food, shelter and money. Almost a year after being homeless Cora learned about the Ali Forney Center through one of our outreach workers. She was given a bed in our emergency housing shelter and was connected to our career and educational readiness program where she earned a National Work Readiness credential and built her resume at her service-learning project and video editing internship. Cora discovered her acting ability and visual arts talents, and learned important professional skills. With the help of our legal team Cora now has her Permanent Resident Card and is employed at a local organic market.
Oliver enrolled in the LEAP program and quickly flourished. He was an integral part of the group service-learning project, which focused on making schools a more supportive place for LGBTQ students. The LEAP team helped connect Oliver to therapy and saw him through to the end of both his internship with Coalition for the Homeless and the service-learning project! At the end of the project, Oliver wrote, “My patience level grew as the weeks went by. I became open-minded to others’ ideas. I also gave up control allowing myself to depend on others.” Oliver wrote that the experience taught him “how to become an advocate for the LGBTQ community, act like a leader, do teamwork, and create a tool that could push other folks that still are clueless to what is going on in our community.” LEAP connected Oliver to the Summer Youth Employment Program where he was so valued that they kept him on staff even after summer programming ended. Through staff facilitation and support, Oliver applied to four local colleges and is hoping to begin in the Spring semester of 2015. He is living with his family and caring for his younger brothers and sisters.
Max began the LEAP Program and started testosterone just two weeks later. Max’s family was struggling with his transition. The LEAP Program supported Max as he began living in his authentic gender and helped him live up to his potential, including earning his National Work Readiness credential, developing strong relationships with LEAP staff and peers, realizing his obvious natural leadership ability in the service-learning project, and the completion of his internship with Coalition for the Homeless. Max reflected on his experience with LEAP , writing, “I think that I’ve learned a lot through LEAP on how to be on point and work hard for what I want to achieve. I’ve learned how to set goals - short-term, medium and long - and how to achieve them.” Max has reunited with his parents and lives with them in upper Manhattan. He re-enrolled in college and is currently studying sociology. During the summers, he works as a counselor at a camp for LGBTQ youth.
Six months before graduating from high school, Maria’s father saw her holding hands with another girl. Maria tried to deny her father’s suspicions but he was relentless in demanding that she tell the truth. When Maria did he went into a rage choking her and condemning her to hell – he even insisted that she was “possessed”. He began to tell Maria that he was going to find her a man to marry to rid her of her homosexuality. Everyday Maria came home from school in fear not knowing what her father would do next. Maria ran away from home the day before her graduation. She fled to New York City to meet a woman she met online who offered help. When Maria arrived the woman was really a man who tried to force Maria to engage in prostitution – he also tried to rape her. When Maria came to AFC’s Drop-In Center, she was malnourished and disheveled from months of street homelessness. Her mental health had deteriorated; she talked to herself and often acted out. Our staff fed her and gave her some clean clothes and connected her to our onsite medical clinic. Within a matter of hours Maria was enrolled in mental health counseling and psychiatric care. Maria’s recovery will take time but she is committed to reclaiming her life and going to college. We will be here every step of the way to offer the housing, guidance and love she has been denied by her family.
Jose was orphaned at just 16 and was sent to live with his uncle and aunt out of state. As soon as he turned 18, his aunt and uncle kicked him out onto the streets. Jose moved back to New York and managed to work three jobs -- all while homeless. He was living in an adult male shelter notorious for its violence and Jose was often the target of abuse. Scared and scarred, he decided he’d rather be street homeless than be beaten up every day. Sleeping in subway stations and trains took its toll; he rarely caught a good night’s sleep. Burning the candle at both ends eventually caught up with Jose and he was fired from his jobs. He came to AFC’s Drop-In Center and asked for help in finding a job so he could afford a home of his own. After four months without a job, Jose slipped deep into depression and his mental health suffered. Our case managers placed Jose in transitional housing and within just three days he was thriving. His outlook improved and he was taking care of his himself. The support and stable housing that AFC found for Jose helped him turn his life around: Today, Jose is enrolled in in college pursuing a degree in business and he’s working full-time in an after school program.
Caleb spent six months sleeping on the A train. He learned about AFC’s Drop-In Center from one of our outreach workers. During his intake, our case manager learned that Caleb was a vegetarian but was so food insecure that he ended up eating whatever he could find. Caleb’s face lit up when our case manager told him that the Drop-In Center serves three meals per day -- and always has a vegetarian option. Now that he’s well-fed and connected to vital services, Caleb wants to enroll in a culinary program to cook tasty, accessible vegetarian food.
Leo was 14 years old when he started being bullied and harassed at school by other children for “acting gay.” At 17, in tears, he confided in his father and mother about the harassment. Their response was for him to “be a man and fight.” Leo started skipping school to escape the bullying – as many LGBT youth do. When confronted about why he was skipping school Leo broke down and told his parents he was in fact gay. He recalls his mother leaving the room in tears and his father violently shaking him telling him that he would not allow a faggot in his home. In the months that followed his parent’s harassment and abuse was so unbearable that Leo fled his home. For six months, Leo bounced among his friends homes, sleeping on couches without a stable home of his own. He came to AFC’s Drop-In Center and asked for help in securing the government identification necessary to secure employment. A self-reliant young man, Leo wanted to find a job so he could afford a home of his own. AFC’s staff enrolled Leo in food stamps, public assistance and helped him get his identification. Leo lived in our housing program where he attained his GED. Following his graduation we referred Leo to a home health aide certificate program. Leo completed the program and is now working two jobs -- and is enrolled in college. Last month, Leo moved into his very own apartment with his partner.
André was born female but realized at a young age that he identified as male. After coming out as transgender, he was beaten and his life threatened by a brother who was in prison saying “I’m coming for you when I get out.” Barely a legal adult, André fled his home at 17 and ended up on the streets. He suffered from a host of mental illnesses -- which were exacerbated by the trauma of violence at home and his family’s rejection -- and received Social Security benefits for most of his life. After his family didn’t pass along a crucial document from Social Security, André lost his benefits. André came to the Ali Forney Center’s Drop-In Center. He was quickly assessed by our staff and began therapy with our Intensive Case Manager. Immediately our staff began to work to find André supportive housing -- a safe place to live with the social service supports that he so desperately needed. His Case Manager appealed the Social Security decision and worked closely with André to make sure he kept his appointments and submitted all of the necessary documents during the ten month battle with Social Security. For a young man who was unable to take the train alone, he remarkably kept up with his therapy and case management appointments. He was a regular at our Drop-In Center. Within a year, AFC staff had successfully appealed André’s Social Security case and his benefits were reinstated. André was approved for supportive housing and moved into his very own apartment in March of this year.