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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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A Time to Come Home

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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Martin, 17

 

Martin grew up in the south. He was one of six boys and was brought up in a humble and loving home. His father was a minister, the family spent a lot of time at church, they prayed before meals, and often read the bible together. His happiest memory growing up was waking on on Christmas morning and helping his mother cook breakfast for the family.

When Martin was 14, he started to realize he liked boys. His father always condemned LGBTQ people. He knew he would not be accepted. He tried to talk to his mother about it but she told him he needed to pray and not to tell his father.

Martin prayed that god would fix him.

Martin's relationship with his family started to deteriorate. His mother started to treat him differently, not letting him spend time alone with his brothers. His father started talking more and more about gay people, saying they would go to hell, that they were living in sin. Martin was becoming a target. He started becoming withdrawn and depressed.

One morning Martin's father stormed into his room asking him if he was gay. All Martin could do was cry. That night, Martin prayed to not wake up. It was the first time he ever felt he wanted his life to be over. Sadly, Martin started to think about ways to end his life.

Martin stopped praying to be healed and started praying to be dead.

When deprived of support and acceptance, young people are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and, tragically, suicidal thoughts. In fact, LGBTQ youths who are rejected by their families are eight times more likely to consider or attempt suicide.

Fortunately, Martin decided to look for help online which is where he found the Ali Forney Center. He messaged with one of our outreach workers who was ready to offer him a bed in our Emergency Housing Program.

When Martin arrived at our Drop-In Center he cried. He found himself in a place with other young people, like himself. And, while he realized he was now homeless, Martin felt relieved to not be ashamed of who he is.

Martin misses his family and still prays for help, but now he's praying that his family will accept him.

Christian, 22

At 22 years old, Christian had spent nearly 4 years being unstably housed living mostly on the streets. He came out as gay to his parents when he was 17 years old and was met with homophobia and hate. On the morning of his 18 birthday his parents kicked him out.

Christian, like many homeless young people, struggled to survive on the streets. He went to a shelter run by a religious organization and on his first night there he was beaten up because of his identity. He ended up feeling safer on the streets where he slept in the subways and searched for food in dumpsters of restaurants to eat, sometimes eating around rotting parts of food. He recalls feeling constant hunger, so much so that it would wake him from his sleep. 

He says he often felt like crying whenever he saw someone eating. 

Food insecurity causes a host of mental health issues among homeless populations or those who do not have regular access to food. For homeless LGBTQ youth, their lack of access to food is rooted in family rejection due their identity. Individuals who are without consistent access to food for extended periods of time feel unworthy of food, unworthy of community and sadly, unworthy of love. 

Christian developed a relationship with one of our outreach coordinators who would provide him with food, blankets and hand warmers. Eventually, our outreach worker was able to convince Christian to visit our shelter, assuring him that he would not be targeted or harassed because of his identity. In fact, AFC serves over 150,000 meal annually, we also offer young people tools to overcome lack of food security and mental health services to heal from the traumas of homelessness. 

Upon arriving at our 24 hour Drop In Center in Harlem, Christian was offered a warm meal. He was subsequently connected with a mental health support group and therapist to address his lack of food security and his family's rejection. He enrolled in our onsite Meal Preparation Program where he is working towards obtaining a Meal Handlers certification in the restaurant industry -- a training program we offer on site. He wants to open a restaurant to feed other homeless people like him. 

 

 

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.