BY Michelle Garcia
November 18 2009 5:15 PM ET
By contrast, the center's shelters are smaller facilities for its 16-to-24-year-old clients. While there are approximately 3,000 to 8,000 homeless LGBT young adults on the streets in New York, the center is doing what it can to help them live healthy, safe, independent lives by finding education and job opportunities. Over the course of a year, the Ali Forney Center is able to help about 1,000 young people. Still, Siciliano says, there are 150 young people waiting each night to get into a bed in the center's network of homes.
The initial wave of young people coming into the shelters was from the New York City area, but more started coming from far-off red states and small towns. Now, he says, as many as 15% of the center's clients come from as far away as the Caribbean and parts of Africa in search of a safe haven. One young woman who came to the center traveled from the island of Jamaica, known for its blatant and sometimes violent homophobia. She fled her home country because two of her friends were murdered and she felt as though she was next.
"We used to think of [homosexuality] as an adult issue," Siciliano says, "but now there's a lot of anxiety out there about homosexuality and youth. In a lot of countries it's deadly for kids to be out."
Established in 2002 with just 6 beds, the center now runs seven housing sites and two emergency drop-in centers in Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. The site in Astoria was an Episcopal church for about 50 years before it was decommissioned. Siciliano says the Episcopal Charities of Long Island (which serves Queens, Brooklyn, and Long Island) wanted to use the space specifically for housing LGBT homeless youths, so it contacted the Forney Center. Next week the new site will be unveiled for the Episcopal diocese's incoming bishop and several LGBT activists.
The reason for the Episcopal Church's involvement? A letter asking for donations to support the site simply says that protecting those who are the most vulnerable is within the context of the Anglican tradition. With more churches like that, maybe there wouldn't be a need for too many more shelters.