High school is often a challenging time for LGBT young adults. Many are just coming out of the closet, and many face bullying or teasing from their peers. Others are struggling to fit in, hoping that they won’t be ostracized. High schoolers sometimes face the challenge of coming out to closed-minded parents, relatives, and friends. All of this on top of the struggles any high school student faces — trying to get good grades, pressure to get into a good college, social pressure to look cool or to fit in or to be invited to parties, and the list goes on.
Now imagine these struggles multiplied, and you might get a clearer picture of what it’s like to be an LGBT homeless student. Homeless youth face difficulties finding food and shelter. They don’t always have a place to shower or a way to get clothes. They have to worry about passing their classes (if they’re able to stay in school), plus they have to worry that a cop may get in them in trouble at night for sleeping on a sidewalk.
In New York City, several organizations are doing their part to help LGBT homeless youth. The Ali Forney Center has several housing options, as well as day centers that provide food, showers, laundry, and more. The Callen-Lorde Community Health Center’s Health Outreach to Teens program provides free medical care to LGBT youth ages 13-24. Green Chimneys takes LGBT youth out of shelters and moves them into foster care and transitional housing programs.
But unfortunately, funding for LGBT homeless youth services like these are under attack.
Just a couple months ago proposed city budget cuts threatened many of the beds at the Ali Forney Center. The LGBT community fought back, and the city budget cuts to the Ali Forney Center were eventually restored. But now, proposed state budget cuts include huge hits to LGBT homeless youth services, which would cause the Ali Forney Center to lose around 37 beds.
There are already far too few beds for NYC’s LGBT homeless youth population. In September 2010, I had a chance to meet some of the city’s LGBT homeless youth when I visited the Ali Forney Day Center.
Two of the homeless youth at the Day Center shared their stories with me. Both of them had no housing and were literally sleeping on the sidewalks and in Central Park. Juan, who was a senior in high school, had been homeless for about five weeks and was enrolled in a public high school. He wasn’t able to find housing, and spent his nights on the streets with other homeless youth. He described how difficult it was to keep up in school when he was exhausted after long, restless nights.
One of the people who slept in his group was Jamie, a 21-year-old who had been homeless since she was 18. Jamie was in the foster system since a young age, but she was abused by foster parents and moved from one home to another. Eventually, she decided to leave foster care to escape abuse. She moved from shelter to shelter, seeking a safe place to live, but was teased and abused in many of the shelters. She was on the wait list for housing at the Ali Forney Center, hoping that she would soon find a safe place to sleep.
Jamie and Juan are just two of the many LGBT homeless youth who need a place to sleep. There are already far too few beds for LGBT homeless youth.
Photo credit: Ali Forney Center