Threatened Homeless Youth Cuts Restored

BY PAUL SCHINDLER | City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Finance Committee Chair Domenic Recchia on January 6 announced successful completion of negotiations with the Bloomberg administration related to objections the Council had to certain mid-fiscal year budget cuts the mayor had ordered.

Their statement emphasized that the agreement results in the same dollar amount of budget adjustments originally proposed but would fully restore cuts planned for drop-in and street outreach services for LGBTQ youth as well as for rapid HIV testing efforts the Council had funded in the current budget that began July 1, 2010.

City Council announces deal with mayor over $1.7 million in drop-in, street outreach programs

When the proposed cuts were first announced shortly after Thanksgiving, advocates for homeless queer youth said they would amount to roughly $970,000 in the current fiscal year and another $700,000 next year, a miniscule amount in a budget of more than $60 billion.

Those figures, however, would reduce funding for drop-in centers by one-third to one-half and, within two years, eliminate dollars for street outreach to homeless youth completely.

Nearly 20 percent of that first year reduction — $186,000 — would have been borne by the two city-funded groups that work specifically with LGBT homeless youth: the Ali Forney Center and the Bronx Community Pride Center. An estimated 3,800 young people go without shelter on any given night in New York City, and up to 40 percent of those are LGBT or questioning, often driven to the streets by hostility and violence in their homes.

Both Ali Forney and the Bronx Center have drop-in centers that are City Council-funded projects, which would have lost half of their money.

Dirk McCall, the Bronx Center’s executive director, told Gay City News his group earlier faced the loss of a $425,000 three-year contract awarded to another Bronx social service agency at the time it was up for renewal.

“We’re already doing more with less,” McCall said. “The $86,000 in funding was a City Council band-aid for us.”

Ali Forney was set to lose $143,000, which its executive director, Carl Siciliano, said would, among a number of impacts, have jettisoned hopes of establishing a 24-hour drop-in center; for many, that could be the only safe and warm alternative in a city with beds suited for LGBT youth numbering only in the low hundreds.

“I am thrilled that the Council has been able to restore these services to runaway and homeless youth, so many of whom who are LGBTQ,” said Quinn, an out lesbian who represents Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen. “While I recognize the difficult times we face, I absolutely oppose balancing our budget on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens.”

Youth Services Committee Chair Lew Fidler, who has overseen 18 hearings about runaway and homeless youth in recent years and developed the first funding streams to support efforts tailored to the unique needs of LGBTQ youth, said, “I am overjoyed that we were not only able to restore the city tax levy cuts to these services, but the state cuts as well. Thanks to Speaker Quinn and LGBTQ advocates for their steadfast support and advocacy.”

In an op-ed published last month in Gay City News —“Alone & Sleeping on the Street: Happy Holidays” — Fidler called the proposed cuts “one of the cruelest actions imaginable.”

Siciliano, in addition to thanking Quinn and Fidler, applauded the mobilization by community activists and organizations to press City Hall on the issue.

“I do not think that the mayor, in proposing the cuts, anticipated the depth of the commitment of the LGBT community to protecting our youth who have been thrown out to the streets, and I am deeply moved by the caring that our community revealed in fighting the cuts.”

Ali Forney and Bronx Pride were joined in a December 6 letter of protest to Bloomberg and Department of Youth and Community Development Commissioner Jeanne Mullgrav by well-known players in the social services world, including Covenant House, Green Chimneys, Safe Space NYC, and the Urban Justice Center, as well as LGBT-oriented groups such as the Asian Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/ AIDS (APICHA), Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, FIERCE, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center.

In announcing the funding restorations, the Council also pointed to cuts avoided in child health clinics, the Administration for Children’s Services, senior services, fire companies, and recreation centers. Roughly $25 million in cuts were found elsewhere in the city budget. Recchia’s Finance Committee held more than 13 hours of hearings on the issue in December.