By Julie Bolcer
Originally published on Advocate.com August 05 2011 5:05 PM ET
The Ali Forney Center has received $620,000 from the New York City Council to take over operations for a 20-bed emergency shelter in Brooklyn that will serve homeless and runaway LGBT youths.
According to people familiar with the award, the money represents a shift of funds previously allocated in the city budget for another nonprofit organization, Turning Point, that failed to comply with shelter licensing requirements. As a result, the award does not add to the total number of beds available for homeless and runaway youths in New York City, a figure that stands inadequately in the low hundreds, but it does increase the portion of those beds designated for LGBT youths, the population served by the Ali Forney Center.
"We are grateful to have the additional shelter beds,” said Carl Siciliano, the executive director of the Ali Forney Center, in a telephone interview this week. “It is a terrible thing to see so many LGBT youth forced to survive out in the streets while they wait for beds. We hope to have the new site opened by October so fewer kids will have to suffer in the cold this winter."
The most recent census funded by the City Council in 2007, prior to the current economic crisis, found that almost 4,000 homeless and runaway youths live in New York City. An estimated 40% of them are believed to be LGBT, a segment of homeless youngsters at elevated risk for HIV infection and suicide attempts.
Siciliano said city officials contacted him several weeks ago about taking over the shelter contract, and they agreed to a grant to prevent his organization from having to front any expenses. Located in two adjoining houses in the Sunset Park neighborhood, the fully furnished shelter will bring to 77 the total number of emergency and longer-term transitional beds managed mostly in Brooklyn by the Ali Forney Center, but the organization still has a waiting list of 180 young people.
“Support has really eroded in a time when there are more kids than ever,” he said. “There’s this gross lack of capacity right now. So many kids are being affected by the recession.”
City Council member Lew Fidler, the chair of the youth services committee, said the Ali Forney Center was selected for the money, which is budgeted through June 2012, because of its strong reputation and the population it serves. In fact, the grant may make the organization the largest direct-service LGBT youth organization in the country, with a budget around $5 million.
“As the leader on this particular issue, I was asked by the speaker [New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn] where I thought was appropriate, and there was no organization with a finer reputation for servicing a diverse population in this area than Ali Forney,” said Fidler. “It wasn’t hard to convince people that as long as they thought they could handle the capacity, it should go to them. It’s important that the shelter bed portfolio be diverse so that whoever you are, you have a place where you can go that will be comfortable with your needs.”
As federal and state funding has dwindled in recent years, the City Council has acted as a buffer, stepping in this year to restore millions in drastic cuts by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose administration provides nearly half the city’s $12 million budget for runaway and homeless youth services. Similar strains appear inevitable next year or perhaps even sooner, as Fidler worries that the debt negotiations in Washington could have an “awful, awful ripple effect” that forces the city and state to make more adjustments.
“That’s the unfortunate reality of really every dime in this city budget. We’re not permitted to budget for years around. I will say that as long as I’m around it will be taken out of the budget over my big fat dead bloody body,” said the Brooklyn lawmaker.
Looking ahead, Siciliano plans to press the campaign, launched this summer in collaboration with other service providers, advocates, and local political clubs, to ask the city and state to commit to creating 100 new beds for homeless youths each year. The groups announced their initiative outside the Stonewall Inn in the West Village June 24, just hours before the state Senate passed the marriage equality bill signed into law that night by Cuomo.
“We were a little overshadowed,” said Siciliano. “But we’ll be back.”