LGBT Homeless Youth Advocate Carl Siciliano Likes White House Honor But Would Love More Money
New York's LGBT youth organizations breathed a collective sigh of relief this month when the City Council prevented Mayor Michael Bloomberg's planned $7 million in cuts to the Runaway and Homeless Youth Services budget. Although he is slow to take credit, Ali Forney Center Executive Director Carl Siciliano made a significant difference in combating cuts to services to LGBT homelessness in the city. Siciliano, the founder of the Ali Forney Center, will receive some national recognition when he travels to the White House on July 12 as a "Champion of Change."
"I am really appreciative of the Council's efforts to protect the funding, but with 3,800 homeless kids and only 250 beds, the status quo is catastrophic and horrific," said Siciliano, who especially singled out Council Member Lewis Fidler and Speaker Christine Quinn as staunch advocates. "Every month we've got kids attempting suicide and seroconverting while on the street prostituting themselves. I wish the mayor would explain his position that these homeless kids don't deserve shelter."
Siciliano said he felt that the Campaign for Youth Shelter made a misstep by framing the issue in a budgetary way, believing now that city and state leaders will not respond with resources until they share the belief that it is the community's responsibility to protect homeless youth, as part of the city's larger legal mandate to provide shelter to the homeless.
"I really want to push the governor, mayor and state legislature to take a closer look at what their responsibility is," he said. "We did get traction with a number of senators and assembly members, both Republicans and Democrats, who signed letters to the governor asking that homeless youth funding be raised. But when you have profound neglect for a long time, you don't just snap your fingers and get results; you do the work to create the climate in which a response can happen."
Siciliano has certainly done his part to create such a climate. He traces his work with LGBT homeless youth back to his early efforts more than a decade ago when he worked with the Safe Space drop-in center in Times Square. It was there that he met the youth named Ali Forney, one of "a number of kids who were murdered on the streets in those days."
He remembered the uphill battle they experienced getting federal funding during the Bush Administration, when "if they saw LGBT on your application, it would get thrown away." Fast forward a decade to the 10th anniversary of the Ali Forney Center, and Siciliano said the climate is beginning to change.
"There was a significant shift in the Obama Administration in their willingness to fund programs for LGBT youth, and there is a sense they are making it a priority," said Siciliano. "I see my getting this award in that context; as a sign of openness and the recognition of the plight of these kids."
In addition to the ceremony and a tour of the White House, Siciliano will join others in a series of discussions with White House officials about policies and best practices to help this vulnerable population. Siciliano's story will also be posted on the White House website, to increase awareness of LGBT homeless youth.
"The tragedy is that this increased attention comes in the context of an economic downturn, where there aren't resources to make a difference," Siciliano told EDGE. "I would like to see it translate into a flood of funding for housing, but we're not seeing that. My fingers are crossed that Obama will win a second term, and then the willingness and recognition to provide these resources will be there."
When Siciliano first opened the Ali Forney Project on June 19, 2002, what he was doing was so far in the margins of the government, and even the LGBT community, that "we might have been on a desert island in the middle of the ocean," he recalled. There was no funding, no awareness and no sense of urgency.
"Ten years later, to have all this press about going to the White House and being honored shows that a shift has happened, and we have played an important role in creating that consciousness," said Siciliano. "It is gratifying to see, because before you can solve a problem, people need to recognize that there is a problem, and this really signifies that we've made major traction on that. Now the second part of the challenge is to get the resources we need to solve this crisis."
For more information, visit www.aliforneycenter.org