U.S.: Budget Cuts Threaten Handful of Beds for Homeless Youth

  • by Cléo Fatoorehchi (new york)
  • Wednesday, March 30, 2011
  • Inter Press Service

'When I came to New York City, I had contact with a lady who used to live in Queens,' she told IPS.

The woman promised to take care of her, but kicked her out after three weeks and kept all the money Malika had given her. 'That's how I came to be on the streets,' she told IPS in a choked-up voice.

Malika went from shelter to shelter. She stayed two and a half months at Covenant House, then spent a short time at Sylvia's Place, before coming to the Ali Forney Centre for four months. From there, she applied to get a bed at Green Chimney, which has housed her since 2009.

Meanwhile, she also went to Callen-Lorde, a community health centre for LGBT people, which helped her with hormone treatment. As 'a woman of transgender experience,' Malika is statistically more likely to become homeless and faces greater dangers than other homeless youth.

Carl Siciliano has dedicated his life to helping homeless youth in New York City. He founded the Ali Forney Centre in 2002 after a homeless young man from the queer community who was murdered in 1997.

The LGBT youth community has 'extraordinarily high rates of attempting to commit suicide,' he said, adding that while 29 percent of heterosexual homeless youth attempt suicide, the rate is 62 percent in the LGBT homeless community.

'Most of them have no way to support themselves other than prostitution, and that puts them at very high risk of HIV infection,' Siciliano said. 'Twenty percent of the young people that come to the Ali Forney Centre for help are HIV- positive.'

Malika is one of the relatively lucky ones, since she benefits from one of the 300 beds for youth on offer in the city.

There are nearly 4,000 young people living on the streets in the Big Apple, according to a 2008 report by the Empire State Coalition of Youth and Family Services.

Despite this tiny number of shelter beds, Governor Andrew Cuomo reached an agreement on Sunday with state legislators to cut funding to the State's Runaway and Homeless Youth Programme, as part of a plan to reduce the deficit in the 2011-2012 budget agreement.

The budget cuts, which will be voted on Thursday, are 'reckless and irresponsible', according to Siciliano.

'We need more beds and more support, [but] the support for the runaways and homeless youth shelters [would be slashed] from the current amount of 4.7 million dollars to 2.35 million dollars - and it has to be understood that in 2007 this amount was actually 6.7 million dollars,' he pointed out.

Rachel Lloyd, executive director and founder of GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Services), told IPS that 'Young people who were vulnerable before this law came into effect are going to be 10-fold more vulnerable upon this.'

Under the new law, GEMS would be forced to abandon some of its 13 beds. Green Chimney, a national non-profit organisation that provides care to children, fears that the law would likewise affect some of its 22 transitional living beds.

Teresa Nolan, the group's division director of New York City programmes, explained to IPS that state funding is relatively indirect. 'We don't get funding directly from the state. It goes through the NYC Department for Youth and Community Development,' she said. But the cuts would still trickle down, she said.

Lloyd, a former homeless youth herself, recalled 'sleeping on people's couches and at the train stations.'

'Having a home, having somewhere to live, is the most basic of all your foundation to live,' she told IPS.

'It's very easy to forget how awful it is to be homeless,' she said. 'I have to remind myself sometimes how incredibly blessed I am to have somewhere to live.'

She acknowledged that homelessness is self-perpetuating, since no address and no shower hamper the ability to find a job, and no job means no way to pay rent.

The budget law is 'scary for anybody who's working with young people, and frankly for young people who are aware of what's about to happen,' she said.

GEMS is currently working in an advocacy coalition that includes the Ali Forney Centre, Green Chimneys, The Door, Covenant House, Inwood House, Safe Space, Good Shepherd's Chelsea Foyer and the Empire State Coalition of Runaway and Homeless Youth.

Together, they demonstrated in the state capital of Albany on Mar. 15 to convince legislators to drop the cuts, since the only result would be more young people on the streets.

'The people of New York State [need to put pressure on the governor to make him understand] that this is not something humane, it's not something that reflects our values as a people,' Siciliano said.

'I don't think that people want to see homeless kids turned away from the shelters and thrown into the streets,' he said, adding he is nevertheless optimistic given the high mobilisation of people who signed petitions on the website Change.org - over 20,000 people - and Care2 — almost 10,000.

'Even if they approve … the budget, I'm still going to fight to get this funding source,' he told IPS. 'I'm not gonna give up.'

© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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