Top Cuomo Aide, Advocates Share Homeless LGBT Youth Stage

A crowd that filled the Housing Works Bookstore Café on Crosby Street in Soho on March 14 heard a top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the head of the Ali Forney Center (AFC) talk about how the administration and advocates for homeless LGBT youth are working together to identify resources ––from both government and other sources –– to address a crisis that finds roughly 3,800 youth without a bed every night in New York City.

Alphonso David, Cuomo’s deputy secretary for civil rights, speaking at the event, which was a fundraiser for AFC, said members of the administration and advocates had formed a “team” that is seeking “creative solutions.” Arguing that addressing the problem is about more than “just purchasing beds,” David said those collaborating are looking for “an orchestrated plan.”

David acknowledged that in last year’s state budget, Cuomo’s first, funding for runaway and homeless youth (RHY) was cut in half, declining from $4.7 million to $2.36 million. The RHY effort, he said, was made whole when the City Council stepped up to restore the funds cut for the five boroughs.

Censuses of homeless youth have found that up to 40 percent are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning.

As Cuomo prepared for this year’s budget address, Ali Forney, which provides housing and social services for homeless LGBT youth citywide, and other advocates pressed the state and city to jointly launch an effort to increase funding for beds for all homeless youth by $3 million each year until the need is met.

Currently, there are only about 250 beds funded by state and city money, plus about another 100 paid for from other sources, so just one in ten youth, LGBT and otherwise, without a bed can be served. Figures from the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development suggest that every $3 million increment in spending would increase the inventory of beds by as many as 87.

The governor’s January 17 budget announcement, however, included no new RHY money, which sparked anger and dismay among advocates. AFC's executive director, Carl Siciliano, termed it “bad news,” and the Empire State Pride Agenda, the state’s LGBT lobbying group, said, “The governor’s office has failed to adequately address the crisis of LGBT runaway and homeless youth.”

Even as he made note of a new $87 million state program to provide training grants and tax credits to address unemployment among at-risk youth, David made no commitment on increased RHY money in the budget.

“A meaningful solution is never easy, but it’s going to be worth it,” he told crowd at the Housing Works event.

In fact, the overall focus of the evening was on how the LGBT community itself must step up to find alternatives to solutions based solely on government funding. The event was sponsored by Frank Selvaggi and his husband, Bill Shea, who late last year donated $100,000 to Ali Forney.

Jeff Soref was on hand to discuss a recent $500,000 challenge grant to AFC from the Calamus Foundation, a funder of HIV and lesbian and gay services on whose board he sits. The Calamus grant will fund the city’s first 24-hour drop-in services center for homeless LGBT youth. Depending on when money is contributed, the Calamus challenge will match donations made in 2012 dollar for dollar, up to $250,000, and contribute a dollar for every two dollars donated next year, again up to a total of $250,000. AFC hopes to have the drop-in center up and running by the end of the year.

In his remarks, Soref recalled the early years of the HIV epidemic and the pivotal role the gay community played in spurring action by government. Prior to major public money becoming available to fight AIDS, he said, “We had to prove there was a constituency to get the job done. We are the solution. Let’s show the city, state, and federal governments we are prepared to step up.”

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, an out lesbian Chelsea Democrat expected to run for mayor next year, also spoke at the Housing Works gathering. Lauding Siciliano for advocacy that helped jump-start the city’s commitment on housing for homeless LGBT youth, she noted that the issue’s greatest advocate on the Council has been Lew Fidler, a Brooklyn Democrat who chairs the Youth Services Committee and is running in the March 20 special election for the State Senate vacancy created by Carl Kruger’s resignation late last year.