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Homeless for the Holidays

AFC's annual campaign that draws attention to the struggles of homeless LGBT youth in New York City, who will be spending this holiday season much differently from many of their peers - without support from their families or a place to live, just because of who they are.

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About Homeless for the Holidays

Homeless for the Holidays is an annual campaign launched by the Ali Forney Center to give a voice to the thousands of homeless LGBT youths on the streets of our country. During the holidays many of the young people who call AFC home feel a greater sense of rejection and abandonment by their families. It is during this time where many of our youths experience greater episodes of depression, anxiety, drug use and suicidal thoughts. It is also during this time that we tell their stories to help raise awareness of the issues of LGBT youth homelessness.

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Nathan, 18

 

Nathan was in the fourth grade when he remembers being bullied for the first time. A group of boys started making fun of the way he spoke and walked. They called him names and taunted him.

At home, Nathan was met with the same bullying. His father often yelled at him, calling him a "sissy" and demanding that he "man up."

The bullying and homophobia at home and in school worsened over the years.

By the time Nathan was in high school, he was failing academically, had poor self-esteem, anxiety, and was depressed. Often, Nathan remembers crying himself to sleep. He woke up one day with a plan to to end his life. Fortunately, he didn't follow through with his plan. Instead he decided to run away from home.

On the streets, Nathan found other homeless youth like him. For the first time he felt accepted. He also found out about the Ali Forney Center through one of our street outreach workers who connected him to our services.

When he arrived at our 24 Hour Drop In Center in Harlem he found himself surrounded by caring adults who affirmed his identity. Our staff reassured him there is nothing wrong with how he was born.

Nathan has been living with us for six months. He is doing better in school and is relieved to be among people who accept him. Recovering from years of abuse is a slow process, but he is on his way.

This holiday season, help us provide care for Nathan and the nearly 1,400 young people we see each year.

Michael, 19

 

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 at our on-site medical clinic 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.

James, 18

 

When James was 14 he developed a crush on a classmate. He wrote the boy a note and planned to give it to him. His mother found the note and confronted him. James confided that he was gay and begged her not to tell his father.

James grew up in the south, in a small town outside of Mobile, Alabama. He went to church on Sunday with his mother, father and three brothers. His father was known in their town as a leader in the church.

When confronted with the fact that his son was gay, James' father resorted to emotional abuse, telling his son he was certain to die of AIDS, and would go to hell for his lifestyle. He encouraged his other sons to rough up James to teach him how to be a man. The abuse worsened over the next three years.

At 17, James met a man on the internet who bought him a bus ticket to New York. James saw the opportunity as an escape. Upon arriving in New York James was met with the reality that the man was looking for more than a friendship. When James turned down his advances, he was kicked out.

James ended up on the street, sleeping on trains, and searching for food in garbage cans or through begging on street corners. He spent his first Thanksgiving in NYC at a soup kitchen. He was connected to the Ali Forney Center by one of our Outreach Specialists on the streets.

James has been in our care for a year. He is thriving and works part-time at a fast-food restaurant while completing High School. In spite of the abuse, he misses his family, and his home.  He wants to go to college and be successful, with the hopes that his parents will accept him.

However that may turn out, the Ali Forney Center will be here, helping him every step of the way. 

Albert, 19

Albert, 19

Albert first attempted suicide a few days shy of his 17 birthday. Earlier that year he found the courage to tell his family about his identity. He was met with transphobia, forced into conversion therapy, and became the target of severe physical and emotional abuse. 

His second attempt at suicide was following a Christmas break. He had been in and out of psychiatric facilities because of his mental health and had spent the holiday with his parents who had staged a religious intervention led by members of his family's church. 

One day he decided he couldn't take the abuse any longer. Much like many of the young people in our care, Albert felt safer on the streets than in the home of the people who were supposed to love and care for him unconditionally. 

Albert found the Ali Forney Center on the internet when he searched for services for transgender homeless individuals. Online he learned about our Transgender housing program and dedicated services. For the first time he felt that there might be an end to his nightmare.  

Within a few hours of arriving at our 24 hour Drop In Center in Harlem, he met with a medical professional at our on-site medical clinic and was offered a bed in our Emergency housing Program. He was offered a shower, gender-affirming clothing, and a warm meal. 

Above all of the things Albert was offered, he was most impacted by speaking with individuals who affirmed, accepted, and acknowledged his gender. He says he never thought that he would live to be accepted. 

Albert is spending his first holiday with us. We're working on his mental health care plan, addressing the trauma he's experienced, preparing him for school, and above all reminding him every day that there is nothing wrong with his identity. 

This holiday season, support the work we are doing with Albert and the over 1,400 young people who come to us each year. 

Julian, 17

 

At 17 years old, Julian had spent most of his life living in abandoned buildings, homeless shelters, and his family's car. 

His mother's boyfriend would hit and abuse Julian, calling him gay and telling him to be a man. Julian did his best to avoid him. 

Although she never protected him and his upbringing was very difficult, Julian loved his mother unconditionally. 

As Julian got older the harassment persisted. Julian started spending nights out on the streets until he eventually stopped coming home to avoid being abused. 

LGBTQ youth are 8 times more likely to experience homelessness than non-LGBTQ youth. Many are rejected by their families and kicked out of their homes due to their identity; some, like Julian, are forced to run away from home to avoid abuse and homophobia. 

Julian found a community for himself on the streets. And, like many street homeless youth who are forced out of their homes he began to use drugs and alcohol to cope with his situation. Julian learned about AFC through one of our outreach workers and came into our 24 Hour Drop In Center for care. 

His first impression of our Drop In Center was that he felt safe and free to be who he is. -- He's right, AFC offers young people a safe environment where they can express their orientation, gender and true selves without judgement or fear of rejection. 

Julian is beginning to build his life back together. He's enrolled in our education program to finish High School and wants to study fashion. Even though he hasn't spoken to or seen her, he hopes that his mother will be proud of him when he graduates. But no matter what, we are helping him learn to find pride in himself.

 

Stephanie, 19

 
Growing up, Stephanie remembers having crushes on girls. She once told her mom that she wanted to marry her best friend and her mother told her that the devil made her say that. She never told her mom about her crushes on girls again.

In middle school Stephanie started to experience bullying because she wasn't like most girls. The bullying became so unbearable that she started skipping school. She became withdrawn and depressed. Throughout the following years the family rejection and bullying at school persisted. By high school, Stephanie was failing all of her classes, dealing with anxiety and started thinking about suicide. 

Stephanie found some solace when she met a girl like her at school. They two became quick friends. Her friend was open about her identity which pushed Stephanie to come out as well. When she did, her entire world changed. She came home one day to find her belongings on the steps of her home. She knew what it meant and she didn't even try to reason with her mother.

More than 80% of LGBTQ youth report bullying as a daily occurrence in their schools and about half of them skip school to avoid the bullying. As a result, LGBTQ youth are more likely to be unengaged and academically challenged at school. Tragically, LGBTQ youth are 8 times more likely to be homeless than non LGBTQ youth.

Stephanie's road to AFC was a difficult one that involved sleeping on the streets, doing drugs, and other dangerous things to survive. She was connected to our Drop In Center by one of our Street Outreach Workers. She was immediately offered a warm meal, new clothing and access to a shower. She was able to find a spot in our overnight program that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

She's working on building a new life for herself. Although she's been through much hardship on the streets, she says that nothing has been worse for her than to not being able to see her mom and family. We're working with her to heal from that pain through our mental health services. Stephanie has a bright future ahead but the loss of her mother's love will always be painful for her.

 

Ernesto, 17

Ernesto was 17 years old when he found himself being choked by his father who was yelling "I would rather have a dead son than a gay son." Earlier in the school year, Ernesto met a boy and the two were secretly dating.

Ernesto's father was never affection or close. He was a proud man who worked late hours to make ends meet, he took his family to church every Sunday, he prayed before every meal.

He was very homophobic.

Ernesto's only thought while his father was choking him was to pray to make it all stop. His father pushed him out on the front door of their apartment building telling him to never come back.

LGBTQ youth are at greater risk of experiencing violence at the hands of their parents. Once homeless, they are 8 times more likely to be targeted on the streets and in non-LGBTQ affirming shelters. The traumatic scars of family rejection have life-lasting effects.

Ernesto quickly found the Ali Forney Center on the internet and made his way from his home in the Bronx to our 24 hour Drop In Center in Harlem. He was immediately placed in our overnight program and within three days had a bed in our emergency housing program. He saw a doctor at our on-site clinic to assess the physical abuse. We also connected him with mental health services to begin to address the emotional abuse.

He's working towards obtaining a high school equivalency and has a team of dedicated staff members and volunteers who are rooting for him every step of the way.

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Gabrielle, 19

 
Gabrielle was assigned the male gender at birth, when she was 6 she would take her mother's lipstick and wear it in secret. When she was 8 she started wearing her mother's clothes, putting on jewelry, heels, and full make up. 
 
She describes those moments as her happy place.
 
When Gabrielle was 11 her mother caught her dressing up. Her mother took Gabrielle to church where she was forced to pray. She was told she was possessed. She was told she would go to hell. 
 
Over the following years Gabrielle would be subjected to several forms of conversion therapy. She would be made to pray out loud throughout the day denouncing herself. She would be called disgusting by her siblings and both of her parents. 
 
It was the end of Gabrielle's happy place.
 
At the age of 17 Gabrielle experienced her first schizophrenic episode. The years of abuse, conversion therapy, and transphobia had taken its toll on her mental health. It was a breaking point for her. She was now medicated and told that her mental health issues were the reason she felt like a woman.  
 
Desperate to find herself, Gabrielle started looking for ways to escape. She met a man on the internet who offered to pay for her to take a bus to New York. He offered her make up, wigs, clothing, and promised to help her become a woman.
 
She walked out of her house in the middle of the winter and made her way to New York from North Carolina. 
 
Things didn't work out for Gabrielle as she hoped. She was forced into a world she never imaged existed. 
Family rejection is the leading cause of LGBTQ youth homelessness. The youth who come to AFC for help and shelter face trauma in many forms while homeless ranging from the lack of a safe place to sleep to having no access to food, but no trauma is more severe than the lack of acceptance and love from their families. 
 
Fortunately, one of our outreach workers made contact with Gabrielle while she was on the streets. Upon joining our program she was offered extensive mental health therapy and psychiatric care through our onsite medical and mental health clinic. 
 
She was also offered a loving and affirming environment where she could fully express her identity. She began hormone replacement therapy, legal filings to change her name and gender marker on her id -- all through our 24 hour Drop In Center.
 
Gabrielle broke down when she looked in the mirror of her new home in our Transgender Housing Program. She said she didn't think she would ever feel pretty again.