At the Ali Forney Center we are confronted every day with kids who have been thrown out of their homes by homophobic parents. The kids are devastated to have been cast out like trash and terrified of what will happen to them. Because New York City only provides 250 youth shelter beds for a population of 4,000 homeless youths, most of the kids cannot immediately access a shelter bed. We try valiantly to find safe shelter for the kids who walk through our doors, but we often have to deliver the news to these kids that we cannot find a bed for them. Sometimes they cry when we give them this horrible news. We are then forced to explore with them their pathetic options, like trying to sleep in Penn Station or in the subway trains.
So in the great city of New York, homeless children are forced to sleep on subway trains, in parks, and in abandoned buildings. "Sleep" is probably not even the right word; they catch brief snatches of rest but are usually too terrified and uncomfortable to get much sleep.
Yesterday Mayor Bloomberg released a budget that guts a wide array of services to the disadvantaged youths of New York City. But most stunning is his proposal to eliminate 160 of the city's 250 youth shelter beds. How can he possibly think that an appropriate way to deal with budget challenges is to throw poor children out of their shelter beds and into the streets?
I wonder if the mayor understands what it means to put a kid on the street. Does he know that many will be forced to resort to prostituting themselves in order to survive? Does he know that 20 percent of the LGBT kids will become infected with HIV on the streets? Does he know that 60 percent will consider or attempt suicide? He ought to know these things, as his administration released a report in 2010 that documented the horrific risks LGBT youths face on the streets.
I am at a loss. I've organized rallies and letter-writing campaigns calling fo more youth shelter beds. I've helped generate a boatload of media reports on the plight of homeless LGBT youths in New York City. I've worked with other LGBT advocates and providers to organize the Campaign for Youth Shelter, which calls for New York City and State to commit to a plan to provide beds for all the homeless youths who need them. I've met at length with the mayor's administration, trying to get them to understand how wrong it is to fail to provide shelter for kids. I've done a photo essay of kids on the streets of N.Y.C. without shelter beds. But despite these efforts, the only plan I see is to throw more kids into the streets.
If the mayor's plan comes to pass and 160 more kids are forced to survive on the streets, I will have us offer different counsel to the kids as they ask us for help figuring out how to make it through the night. No longer will we suggest that they sleep in the subway trains. I'll purchase sleeping bags and tents and set them up outside Bloomberg's residence on the Upper East Side. Perhaps if he is forced to see the human wreckage of his budget, if he is forced to see terrified kids shivering in the streets like I do, he will understand how terribly he is failing his city's most destitute and vulnerable youths.
Follow Carl Siciliano on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AliForneyCenter