"We won't have a f______t in our house"
Those are the words M heard after his mother died of cancer. He was 16. His mom had loved and accepted him. But not his aunt and uncle. They took in his little brother, but left M to fend for himself in the streets.
M lived in a town in Florida that had no youth shelter. He and about 20 other homeless kids slept on the floor of an unlocked building in the town park. He used his knapsack with his school books and his toothbrush and deodorant inside as his pillow. Those were the good nights. The bad nights were when the police chased them out. On those nights he tried to sleep in an abandoned lot, hidden in the weeds. Those nights his allergies tormented him; his eyes and throat swelled, and he struggled to breath.
No matter what kind of night he had, M went to school every day. He did it to honor the memory of his mom, who said she would kick his butt in the afterlife if he didn't get an education. Despite the soul-shattering hardships he endured, he graduated at 18.
I met M the day he moved into the Ali Forney Center after sleeping in the subways for six months. That was a really good day for M. He has had some wonderful days since; like the day he was accepted into college, and the day he got hired for his job counseling other teens. Those were good days for the Ali Forney Center as well, as have been the joyful days in recent months when over 40 of our youths in our job training program have been hired.
But we have had some really bad days. Since the federal sequestration and its vast cuts we have lost about $1 Million in government funding. I have been struggling to pay our rents and our food bills, and keep our programs going. I don't sleep in a vacant lot, but I have had more than my share of sleepless nights worrying about the future of the Ali Forney Center.
But in the end I trust we will go forward. Our work of housing and protecting homeless LGBT youths must survive and grow. Too many of the LGBT kids we care for have endured cruelty, violence and contempt in their homes and in other shelters. Over 1,300 kids a year rely on the Ali Forney Center to provide a home where they are protected and accepted for who they are. I trust that our work will go on, because I trust in the goodness of our community. I was very frightened after Hurricane Sandy destroyed our drop-in center, and yet so many in our community showed me that they would stand by us in our devastation. The sequestration is a different kind of storm, a storm made by cruel politics, not weather. But no less devastating, especially for the poorest, most vulnerable youths of our community.
Thank you for standing by us with kindness and generosity for many years. Once again, I ask that you stand by us and our youths in a difficult time.