Often at the Ali Forney Center we are faced with a heart wrenching situation. An LGBT youth shows up at our drop-in center, in desperation, after having been driven from their home by rejecting parents. The youth will be frightened and traumatized. All of our shelter beds will be filled, with hundreds of kids on the waiting list. We reach out to the other youth shelters, but they are also full. Finally, all decent options exhausted, we are forced to counsel the youth to seek refuge for the night in the NYC Subway system. Often, the kids will cry when they realize they have nowhere safe to go.
This horror is not isolated to New York City. It is a national calamity, and a national disgrace. Last year it is estimated that over 500,000 unaccompanied youths endured homelessness. However, there was only space for 50,000 to be cared for by the nation's homeless youth service providers. And with LGBT youth making up to 40 percent of the total homeless youth population, this failure to provide a safety net greatly compounds their suffering. The options for homeless LGBT youth are particularly bleak; while a conservative estimate would suggest that at least 200,000 LGBT youth per year experience homelessness, there are fewer than 350 beds across the nation dedicated to their care.
This situation presents the LGBT movement with an urgent challenge. We have created a cultural climate where young people are encouraged to come out. Now we have a moral and ethical obligation to build a safety net to protect them from parental rejection.
Some tasks are obvious. We must work to encourage parents to accept their LGBT children, with the goal of reducing the numbers of young people driven from their homes. But with millions of families in the sway of religious fundamentalism, and with many conservative religious and political leaders enraged by marriage equality victories, it is clear that many LGBT youth will continue to face hatred and hostility in their homes.
And efforts should be continued and furthered to make youth shelters safer and more accepting for LGBT youth. But even if every youth shelter in the nation were to become LGBT-affirming (a tall order when many youth shelters are run by religious organizations that reject LGBT equality), there is still only enough capacity in them to house one tenth of the homeless youth population.
In New York City, where there are 3,800 homeless youth but only 250 youth shelter beds, LGBT providers and advocates have come together as the Campaign for Youth Shelter to demand a plan for the City and State to address the terrible shortage of youth shelter beds. We have begun to see results of our efforts ;mayoral candidate Christine Quinn released a plan during Pride Week to ensure that all the homeless youth of NYC would be provided with shelter should she be elected, and the Governor's Office worked to determine that $1 Million of State Labor funds would be directed to help homeless LGBT youth acquire education, job training and placement. These efforts can be looked at as a model for how LGBT groups can work together in other localities to advocate for their homeless youths.
The Ali Forney Center is currently seeking funding to launch a new national initiative, to help providers in other localities build LGBT youth housing. We hope to offer funding, as well as our expertise in fundraising, program design, and advocacy, to help other groups expand the number of beds available to LGBT youth. We see this as our best way to contribute to this glaring need for a safety net to better protect our youth.
Our movement has won some remarkable victories for our adults, let us work together to house our youths. Coming out of the closet should not result in being thrown to the streets.
Carl Siciliano is Executive Director and Founder of the Ali Forney Center. He has been honored by the White House as a 'Champion of Change' for his outstanding work with LGBT homeless youth.