Pushing City on Homeless LGBT Youth

Advocates say mayor’s proposed cut of $6 million will derail diversity commitment

In the wake of a report from a mayoral commission on LGBTQ homeless youth that recommends the city increase the number of regulated shelter beds for that population by 200 over the next five years, advocates and the City Council’s Youth Services Committee chair are pressing the Bloomberg administration to restore $6 million in funding for homeless youth programs in the budget currently under negotiation.

According to Lew Fidler, a Brooklyn councilman who heads up Youth Services and has held 14 hearings on the issue in recent years, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins July 1 maintains $6 million in funding for homeless youth initiatives recommended by his administration, but eliminates an equal amount provided in the current budget for efforts the Council has developed in recent years to “diversify” the shelter space available to special needs populations.

That Council initiative has targeted homeless youth traditionally underserved or poorly served in the city shelter system, such as LGBT youth and pregnant girls. Programs that specifically serve LGBTQ youth, such as the Ali Forney Center and Green Chimneys, have been beneficiaries of this funding over the past five years, creating the beginnings of a housing infrastructure for queer homeless youth in New York.

At a rally called by Ali Forney on June 14, Fidler said that each night, 3,800 youths find themselves living on city streets, an estimated one-third to one-half of them LGBTQ. A census of that population completed several years ago, he said, found that as many as 183 of them will engage in sex work to get by on any given night.

The rally, held in Union Square Park, drew a crowd of several hundred and featured three speakers — Davell Bleuz, Rashawn Diggs, and Javahn Roberts — who were forced out of their homes as teens because their families did not accept their LGBT identity. Each of the youths spoke about how programs such as Ali Forney, Green Chimneys, and Safe Space had helped them survive and turn their lives around.

Advocates for homeless queer youth argue that traditional programs aimed at homeless youth create environments hostile and dangerous for young people who identify as LGBT.

As he has done on many other occasions, Carl Siciliano, Ali Forney’s founder, used the occasion of the rally to demand that the LGBT community step up and accept its “responsibility” to care for its own, an obligation that “has been ignored.”

“Why don’t we have a sense of emergency, a sense of crisis?,” he asked. “Why aren’t our organizations screaming about it? Why isn’t our media demanding that it be rectified? I don’t think the mayor is the key. I don’t think the Council is the key. I don’t think the president is the key. We are the key.”

Even as he urged greater engagement by the community, Siciliano was not unmindful of the need for political leadership from elected officials at all levels of government. Citing the imminent release of a report from the Center for American Progress, a progressive policy think tank in Washington, calling for federal efforts to combat LGBT youth homelessness, he urged the Obama administration to issue an executive order forbidding anti-LGBT bias in all federally-funded youth shelters.

Reflecting the fine line non-profit organizations funded by the city must walk in their relationship with the mayor, Siciliano applauded Bloomberg for establishing the first municipal commission in the nation to study the problem of LGBT youth homelessness, and then said, “But let’s be real. It’s easy to issue a report. It’s going to cost an awful lot of money to create the housing that that report calls for and to create the services and supportive care that that report calls for.”

Fidler’s comments suggested that he had been urged by advocates to be politic in his appearance at the rally.

“The organizers of the rally asked me to be gentle today,” he said, in opening his remarks. Then noting that the mayor had indicated he was “happy to receive the report” from the commission he established last fall, Fidler continued, “As we stand here today negotiating the budget for the City of New York, the mayor hasn’t included $6 million for shelter beds in New York that was in last year’s budget. I’m from Brooklyn and we have a saying there that’s actually Yiddish: ‘Money talks.’ I can’t believe they would have the chutzpah to put out a report calling for an increase in the number of shelter beds for our kids at a time when 50 percent of the money is missing from the budget. I’m sorry if that’s not gentle, but it’s the truth.”

Fidler was joined at the rally by City Councilman Daniel Dromm, an out gay freshman legislator from Jackson Heights, who demanded that the LGBT community “begin to receive the fair share of tax dollars we deserve.”

Comptroller John Liu, noting that since taking office in January he has discovered millions of dollars in funding going to landlords housing formerly homeless New Yorkers not documented through leases or contracts, said the city could certainly find the money to continue funding the Council’s LGBT youth effort.

Liu, who spent eight years on the Council prior to his new post, said he was there to support the work of his former colleague.

“You couldn’t find a stronger advocate than Lew Fidler,” he said.