BY Michelle Garcia
November 18 2009 4:15 PM ET
A converted church in Queens, N.Y., may look like a pleasant youth hostel, but many of its residents made a tough journey to find this new place to call home.
The Ali Forney Center, New York City's top service organization for homeless youth, found a partner in the local Episcopal diocese, which also took interest in the hardships that many LGBT homeless youths face. The partnership resulted in a $200,000 renovation of St. Andrew's Church in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens, where 16 young people can now sleep soundly.
Carl Siciliano, executive director of the center, says he's grateful for the church's philanthropic outreach.
"So many of these young people are rejected by their families because of religion," he says. "Kids come in who have been put through exorcisms, and we've had kids whose parents make them go see priests who tell them they're evil and hateful and that they're going to hell. It's a really upsetting and unfortunate situation that so many young people are put through this kind of trauma by their parents' religious beliefs, so it's very moving to see a religious organization that's able to say that these youth should be affirmed and cared for, so I'm very grateful to the Episcopal diocese of Long Island for their support."
Housing that addresses the specific needs of homeless gay young adults is crucial to their survival, Siciliano says, because they're "actively affirming that the kids are gay, not just tolerating it." When gay young adults and teenagers are left to live on the street or go to a shelter, Siciliano said, they would probably not choose a 200-bed shelter or, even worse, one where everyone has to sleep on a concrete floor.