Hearing what our young people go through is painful. But I find it important to listen.
Last week I met with a young woman who told me about sleeping in the streets. She had tried sleeping in an adult women's shelter, but left after being bullied for being LGBT. The harassment she suffered was so severe that she felt she would be safer in the streets. She described her first night spent on a bench in Columbus Circle where she felt so lost and alone that she cried herself to sleep. The thing you have to realize about her is that she is tiny; I'd be surprised if she is even five feet tall. She looked hardly older than a child. The two bags in which she carried all her belongings in looked larger than she did. It must have been terrifying to be out alone in the street.
I spoke with a young man who also feared being attacked for being LGBT in the adult shelters. He and a few friends slept in buildings in Staten Island that had been left abandoned after Hurricane Sandy. He described how one night a floorboard gave way underneath them, and how his friend's leg was split open. Because they feared being put out of their abandoned home by the police, they decided to drag their friend out a good distance from the building before calling an ambulance.
A few months ago I spoke with a young man who told me the most upsetting story of all. He described how, after his father found out his son was gay, that he told him again and again that he wished he had never been born. That he was ashamed of having "a faggot" as a son. This young man then confided that he had attempted suicide several times. It is horrible to hear such things; you look into a kid's eyes and you see how ashamed they are to admit how low they've been brought, you see the fear in those eyes.
I share these terrible stories this holiday season, because we have to understand how devastated our young people's lives have been by homophobia in order to understand how necessary the Ali Forney Center is. We have to understand how they have been under attack in their homes, and even in shelters, in order to understand how deep is their need for the safety and affirmation we provide.
But we have some great news to share this holiday season. In the last few weeks we have been able to significantly expand our housing program, opening three new apartment with 18 additional beds. Now we are able to house 107 youths each night. It is a wonderful thing to be able to give these hurt and abused youths places of refuge and healing. And we have also opened our first housing site dedicated to the special needs of our transgender youths. This is a source of great joy; of all of our youths, our trans kids face the most violence and danger, both in their homes and in the streets. It is wonderful to provide a place where they can feel safe and affirmed.
This is life at the Ali Forney Center. Lots of pain, and lots of joy. In this holiday season, when so many youths feel hardest the pain of rejection and separation from their families, I thank you for helping us provide them with homes where they can at last be safe and begin to rebuild their lives. Everyone needs a home, especially our kids. From the bottom of my heart I thank you for your kindness and generosity, which brings safety, warmth and healing to so many.
With love and gratitude,
Ali Forney Center