When Ali Forney, a 22-year-old homeless queer youth and advocate, was murdered in New York City in December 1997, his senseless death focused attention on the plight of a unique population. Homeless young people are among the LGBT community’s most vulnerable members. Rejected by their families and forced to the streets, or an inhospitable homeless shelter system, their sexual orientation and gender identity make them especially susceptible to violence, mental illness, trauma, HIV infection, and substance abuse.
Five years after the murder of Forney, a support organization was created in his name. Since 2002, the Ali Forney Center has grown into the largest and most comprehensive organization dedicated to homeless gay youth in the country, where few such centers exist even though their services are desperately needed.
“I don’t think the broader gay community has put enough consideration and emphasis into what is our response to protect and provide for these kids who come out,” says Carl Siciliano, the founder and executive director of the organization. “The process of coming out has not been thought through a youth paradigm,” he explains.
Driven by more than 50 staff members and over 100 volunteers, the Ali Forney Center soon will open its eighth housing unit, moving toward the goals of sheltering 60 youth per night. The emergency and transitional housing units in Manhattan and Brooklyn help young people under 25 to stabilize, and establish patterns of independent adult living, such as working and saving money.
Some 2,000 young people in all receive assistance from the Ali Forney Center each year, either in the form of housing or the drop-in services offered at two day centers, one in Chelsea and one ready to open in the Park Slope/Sunset Park area. Many teens increasingly come from areas of the United States, and the Caribbean, where similar help is not available. Approximately 40 percent of the clients identify as lesbians.
While the Ali Forney Center is undergoing a period of phenomenal growth, more help is always needed. Professionals over the age of 25 interested in dedicating their time can participate in the new Life Coach program under development. During a one-year commitment, experienced adults will meet weekly with queer youth in transition to adulthood, to help them identify career goals and formulate plans to achieve their dreams.
For more information, please call the Ali Forney Center at 212-222-3427, or visit aliforneycenter.org.