NYC Officials Protest "Unconscionable" Cuts to Homeless Youth Programs
Facing budget cuts of nearly 50 percent for LGBT homeless youth shelters, hundreds of gay youth and their advocates gathered in Union Square on Monday, Oct. 24, to raise awareness and support around the growing problem of homelessness. Speakers including actress Ally Sheedy, City Councilmember Lew Fidler, and Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center, called upon Gov. Andrew Cuomo to provide $3 million annually for 100 new shelter beds until the need is met.
"Responsible adults don’t let children sleep on the street at night," Fidler told EDGE. "I can’t fathom anyone making a conscious decision to leave 3,800 children sleeping on subway gratings, engaging in survival sex, couch surfing, selling their bodies and their dignity in this city, in this age."
Studies have shown that 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, and they are at higher risk of physical and sexual assault, substance abuse and mental health disorders, prostitution, HIV infection, depressive disorders and attempted suicide. About 63 percent of LGBT youth have considered or attempted suicide, as opposed to 29 percent of heterosexual youth.
When asked about the annual 50 percent budget cuts to the homeless youth shelter budget that both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the governor propose every year, Fidler called out the "bean counters" at City Hall and in Albany. He noted that the City Council had to step up last year to cover what he called the "unconscionable" $1 million in cuts the state had made to shelter bed programs.
"I don’t know how anyone can say the state budget didn’t cut critical services when they cut shelter beds for children sleeping on the streets. What the hell is a safety net if it’s not a shelter bed for a child sleeping on the street at night?" asked Fidler.
Siciliano noted LGBT youth shelters received $1.5 million in fiscal year 2011, but only $750,000 for FY 2012. He noted that Bloomberg had also proposed cutting this funding every year by 50 or 60 percent, but Fidler and other councilmembers had intervened on their behalf.
"I’m a mother, and the idea that there’s a parent who will kick a kid out of the house because of their sexual or gender identification makes me sick. It’s immoral," said Sheedy as she and her teenage daughter Rebecca stood in solidarity with the protesters. "If you get kicked out of your home in the South or the middle of the country, New York is the last stop for you. And these are our kids in our great city, and we can’t leave them lying on the street. The winter is coming, and we have to figure out how to raise awareness.... and you guys coming out tonight is a really great start."
Cathy Marino-Thomas, board president of Marriage Equality New York and the mother of a 12-year-old daughter, echoed Sheedy. "As a parent, I simply don’t understand how someone throws their child into the street, I don’t care what the reasoning," she said. "For the last seven years I have worked hard to secure equal marriage rights for all families in New York. It will take much more than marriage equality to make our families and kids equal in the eyes of the law and society. It will take full equality in all 50 states... it will take you and I to stand up and protect these children."
Jonathan Lang, director of governmental affairs for the Empire State Pride Agenda, said that although ESPA had been involved in the struggle for marriage equality and other high-profile issues, his organization remains committed to ending homelessness among LGBT youth.
"Our community recently saw a historic victory this year with a win of marriage equality. But this does not mean that the work is over," said Lang. "Being able to be married today will not address the needs of young people who are hungry and have no place to sleep tonight."
Lang said that ESPA was resolute in working with their partners in city and state government to ensure difficult financial decisions were not balanced on the backs of those most underserved. He also called upon the larger LGBT community to step up and take care of our own. And Jake Goodman, co-founder of Queer Rising, urged participants to share their outrage with the governor.
(Only Some of) The Kids Are Alright
Her voice shaking with fear, Tiffany Coco began reading, "A place to call home. What’s that like again? I can barely remember having one." The 23-year-old lesbian from Spanish Harlem said her fear of rejection from her family led her to the streets-she has been homeless for the last seven years.