Homeless For The Holidays

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Dear Friend,

As the holidays approach and people around the world pause to celebrate and reunite with family, we at the Ali Forney Center pause for a different reason. The holidays are when we see the greatest increase in violence in our programs, the greatest increase in substance use, and the greatest increase in suicidal ideation among our youths. For our young people, the holidays serve as a yearly reminder that they are not welcome at home because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBTQ+).

Here in New York City we pile into subway cars, arms heavy with gifts and groceries, knowing that at the other end of the train ride there is a warm home and the cheerful embrace of our loved ones. Oftentimes, we’re standing or sitting just a few feet away from a homeless young person who is riding the train just to stay out of the cold, feeling hunger and yearning for their family. One of our clients, Derrick, told us that the worst part of being homeless is knowing that you have a family, but they refuse to care for you because of who you are.

Derrick was 14 years old when his mother’s boyfriend started abusing him physically and emotionally because Derrick didn’t “act like a man.” The taunting, name calling, and explosive homophobia escalated over months while Derrick’s mother did nothing to protect him. Derrick soon found himself living with his aunt, a religious woman who preached that homosexuality is a sin. After weeks of abuse Derrick fled to the streets. He told us he felt safer sleeping on the streets than he did in a home where he was beaten, emotionally abused, and rejected because of his identity.

We know Derrick’s story all too well, but one thing we never anticipated is how this same story would play out during the pandemic. While the world isolated at home, our kids were cast out into the streets—into a pandemic—because of who they are. For one brief moment, I held hope that every parent would see the value in an open heart and that our kids would be met with reconciliation and love. That hope evaporated just days into the pandemic as the young people kept coming; terrified and exhausted after being left to navigate a suddenly silent city of closed doors. Their parents dropped them headfirst into the chaos of Covid-19 with nothing but the message that they are not welcome to home, to safety, or to love.

It was our community—our chosen family—who reminded our youths that there are people in this world that care for them, despite what their parents told them. For us—and for them—the greatest gift of the holiday season is your unshakeable support.

This week we launch our annual Homeless for the Holidays campaign—an initiative that gives a voice to the thousands of homeless LGBTQ+ youth on our streets. We share the unvarnished, raw reality of their stories to spotlight the urgency of their situations, the traumas of family rejection, and harms of street homelessness. These stories are jarring, but not without hope. Please follow along online on social media and help give a voice to those among us without one.
Thank you for helping to bring light, care, and love into the lives of our homeless youth and into the lives of my 250 coworkers who work day and night to keep AFC open. Because of you, our team is able to serve over 300,000 meals annually and provide a host of life-saving services to 2,000+ youths across 18 sites. As you celebrate the holidays, I also hope you find time to celebrate what you have helped to make possible for our homeless youths.

With gratitude,

Alexander Roque
President & Executive Director

Homeless For the Holidays

Derrick, 17

Derrick knew from a very young age that he was different. His brother’s would sometimes pick on him because of how he spoke or how he walked but Derrick says it didn’t really bother him. Things changed when Derrick’s mom’s boyfriend moved in with them. Within a matter of weeks, he was abusing Derrick, telling him to “man up.” If Derrick would cry, he would punch Derrick and tell him to stop crying like a girl. Derrick’s mother did nothing to protect him. After months of this, Derrick’s mother offered him the option to move in with his aunt. Derrick was heartbroken that his mother would ask him to move but was desperate to escape his home. He soon found his aunt’s desire to take him in was to “heal him.” She was a religious woman who preached that homosexuality is a sin. Derrick was subject to daily scripture readings, prayers, and the “casting of evil from his body” forced onto him by his aunt. Derrick ultimately ran away to the streets where he felt he could be himself and not be subject to abuse. On the streets, Derrick found other kids like him. He remembers his first holidays on the streets realizing that he has a family but his family chooses not to care for him because of his identity. Fortunately, Derrick wasn’t homeless too long before he was connected to AFC through our outreach team. Our outreach team works to provide support, on the streets, for homeless LGBTQ youth. We build trust over time and encourage youth to come in for services and housing. Derrick is doing well, healing from the abuse he experienced, and has plans to attend college after completing high school. He says he doesn’t feel angry at his mom, he’s just sad that she won’t care for him. He hopes one day he can reconnect with her. We’re here with Derrick supporting him, and affirming for him that there’s nothing wrong with who he is.