Economic crisis hits shelters for homeless LGBT youth hard

by Kevin Scott Hall
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Dec 23, 2008

While LGBT folks take to the streets to demand the right to marry, it's sometimes easy to forget a significant number of young people make their way to New York to find their way after their parents kick them out or their hometown shuns them. Many of these LGBT youth often end up on the streets, in dangerous living situations or perhaps in a temporary shelter-and those facilities and organizations that assist these young people continue to feel the pinch during the economic crisis.

The Metropolitan Community Church of New York oversees Sylvia's Place, an emergency shelter for LGBT youth who have no other place to go. Named in honor of late transgender activist Sylvia Rivera, the shelter opened its West 36th Street doors in 2003. It has 20 beds and more than 26 LGBT youth who seek shelter each night.

Lucky Michaels, director of MCCNY's Homeless Youth Services, described the shelter as "the first and last stop" for many youth with no other place to go. The City Council provides $9,000 each year, but Michaels complained Sylvia's Place gets "nothing from [City Council] Speaker... [and lesbian] Christine Quinn." He estimates it costs roughly $750,000 a year to operate, but Sylvia's Place closed two other centers in recent years due to a lack of funding.

"Basically, MCCNY is covering our bills for now," Michaels said as he noted the shelter is also receiving less socks, gloves, soaps, toothbrushes and other donated items.

Theresa Nolan oversees Green Chimneys' New York programs. The organization places the young people who seek their services into a small building with10 beds in apartments and 24-hour staffing or another building with 10 beds in small apartments with no on-site staff but allows case workers and others to make daily visits. Accepted residents are allowed to stay in their apartments for 18 months.

"Rents are easily our biggest expense," Nolan told EDGE.

She further noted city funds support her staff and federal grants off-set non personnel needs. Nolan conceded, however, this money is often not enough.

"It’s never enough."

"We are having to look ahead and wonder where the private foundation grants and government funding will be in a year," she said.

Funding earmarked by the state Department of Health is backed up by nearly two years, and many of the organizations that serve homeless LGBT youth are still awaiting approval from Gov. David Paterson's office for more money. The Ali Forney Center recently succeeded in reinstituting federal funding from the Ryan White CARE Act it uses to maintain its drop-in center in West Chelsea, but this decision is a temporary reprieve for an already cash-strapped organization.

The New York City Council funded a survey last year of those who used shelters or drop-in centers. It found roughly 3,800 people, of which 1,800 identified themselves as LGBT, sought refuge. Other estimates put the city-wide number as high as 30,000 (with 35 percent of those LGBT.)

"Kids are coming out at a younger age, so [homeless among LGBT youth] a bigger problem," Ali Forney executive director Carl Siciliano said.

Trinity Place, a shelter located next to the Trinity Lutheran Church on West 100th Street on the upper West Side, opened in 2006. The Rev. Heidi Neumark, a pastor at the church who oversees Trinity Place, told EDGE donations this holiday season have been good so far in spite of a continued delay in funding from Albany.

"We're still waiting for a state grant that was supposed to come in June and we know it will be cut," she said. "We don't know yet how much less it will be."

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Kevin Scott Hall is the author of Off the Charts! (2010, iUniverse) and the memoir, A Quarter Inch from My Heart (2014, Wisdom Moon).


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