Home for the Night: Ali Forney Center Celebrates Ten Years of Advocacy for LGBT Youth

Wednesday May 23, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - The Ali Forney Center (AFC), the nation's largest organization working on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) runaway and homeless youth, will celebrate its tenth anniversary this year. The AFC has experienced a decade of enormous growth, not only in its client base and the scope of services it offers, but also in becoming a leading national advocate for these youth, whose struggles are quickly gaining prominence as an LGBT rights issue.

The Center was founded by Executive Director Carl Siciliano in 2002, taking its name and inspiration from Ali Forney, a homeless youth, and a dedicated LGBT and HIV prevention advocate, who was murdered on the streets of New York in 1997. Beginning as a small organization with a handful of employees, the Center has grown to operate on a multimillion-dollar budget.

Today, the Center's facilities include: an Ali Forney Day Center, offering intake medical services and ongoing support programs; emergency housing; Ali Forney Camp, serving as a vocational and educational center; and the Transitional Living Program, providing a combination of housing and programming aimed at enabling LGBT youth to live independently.

Together, all of the AFC's facilities and services have contributed to extraordinary outcomes for its youth. 75 percent remain in programs for long-term care and support; 85 percent are enrolled in mental health services; 77 percent of Transitional Living clients are enrolled in higher learning or vocational opportunities; and 99 percent of Transitional Living clients are employed and on career tracks towards self-sustaining futures.

Carl Siciliano, Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center, said, "We began ten years ago as a homeless shelter, but we continue to honor Ali's legacy by doing far more than that now, providing comprehensive services to LGBT homeless youth in New York City and increasingly influencing the national conversation on this issue. We are thrilled to introduce the first-ever 24-hour drop-in center for LGBT youth later this year, and will continue to advocate for more beds to be made available to homeless youth so they are not left without options and on the streets."

"Our national work, exemplified by our leadership at the recent White House conference on LGBT homelessness," continued Siciliano, "gives us hope that we will be a force in making this issue a priority for the larger LGBT movement, as does our ongoing advocacy for and securing of national media attention on the epidemic of homelessness and its root causes, Together, I believe we can successfully raise our voices as one to demand that state, city, and federal governments take action to provide our youth with the resources which they need."

Key facts about the Center’s clients:

? According to a 2008 Empire State Coalition survey, LGBT youth make up a disproportionate 40 percent of homeless youth in New York City.

? 49 percent of AFC clients identify as male, and 29 percent as female. 22 percent are transgender.

? More than 80 percent of clients are kicked out of their homes for being LGBT, often by religiously conservative family members; the remainder run away due to abuse or neglect.

? 60 percent are African American, 30 percent are Latino, and 10 percent are white.

? 90 percent are uninsured; at least 20 percent are HIV-positive.

The need for AFC’s services continues to grow; in 2011 alone, the waiting list for AFC’s 77 shelter beds grew to 199 youths - an increase of 40 percent for the prior year. Yet despite the pressing need, in 2011, New York State cut its funding for youth shelter beds by 50 percent, a total of $2.35 million. Moreover, the 2012 City budget cuts a further $7 million in funding for Runaway and Homeless Youth Services, eliminating 160 shelter beds - effectively tossing these youth out onto the street.

Derrick "Shenanigans" Cassidy, a client of the Center, says, "Coming to AFC made me realize that there is another aspect of LGBT and youth culture. I had no idea a culture exists that would make me so proud to identify as LGBT and affirm my identity. I got my life together. Without the support and the therapeutic services AFC offers, I would not be where I am at today."

The final 2012 state budget restores a meager $215,000 in funding, too small to allow the construction of additional shelter beds. In response to this crisis, the Ali Forney Center and a number of allied organizations have launched the Campaign for Youth Shelter. This initiative calls on New York City and State to back an additional $3 million in annual funding, set aside to create 100 new shelter beds every year.

Heather Gay, Deputy Executive Director of Programs and a four-year employee of the Center, remarks, "In the last four years, I’ve seen AFC grow in many ways. When we get the necessary funding, I would like to see AFC continue to increase the number of beds we can offer to our clients, so we no longer have long waiting lists to get them off the streets."

The AFC’s goal is not only to lobby the city and state to restore this funding, but to raise the visibility of LGBT youth homelessness both publicly and as a central issue on the agenda of broader state and national LGBT advocacy organizations.

"I’d like to see our supportive services continue to increase," continues Gay, "so we are able to continue to offer quality care to our expanding client population. I’m excited that we will soon be opening our 24/7 drop-in center, so we can provide around-the-clock services to our clients most in need. There really is a sense that everyone who works at AFC does not see it as ’just a job,’ but is here because he or she really wants to be and is committed to our youth."

The AFC’s accomplishments over the past decade include:

? Expanding from a single emergency care facility in 2002 to open a number of additional facilities, including: the Day Center (2005); Park Slope housing (2006); Montrose Avenue housing (2007); Taaffe Place and Clifton Place housing (2008); Astoria emergency housing (2009); and most recently, Sunset Park housing (2011).

? Facilitating positive outcomes for youth, including: 75 percent remaining in programs for long-term care and support; 85 percent being enrolled in mental health services; 77 percent of Transitional Living clients being enrolled in higher learning or vocational opportunities; and 99 percent of Transitional Living clients being employed and on career tracks towards self-sustaining futures.

? Carl Siciliano’s participation in the White House LGBT Conference on Housing and Homelessness, held in Detroit this past March 9

? The AFC and its youth being featured in a national AP article on the struggles of homeless LGBT youth, among the most high-profile coverage of the issue to date

? Holding a March 2012 "friendraiser" calling attention to the plight of the city’s homeless youth, with attendees including: actors Sarah Jessica Parker, Ally Sheedy, and Ron Rifkin; activists including Chuck Wolfe, Zach Wahls, and Evan Wolfson; and politicians including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn

? In 2009, receiving a $300,000 donation as part of actress Bea Arthur’s will, enabling the AFC to remain open in a period of economic crisis, and to establish the Bea Arthur Residence, which continues to provide housing to 12 youths at a time

The Ali Forney Center (AFC) was started in June of 2002 in response to the lack of safe shelter for LGBT youth in New York City. The Center is committed to providing these young people with safe, dignified, nurturing environments where their needs can be met, and where they can begin to put their lives back together.

AFC is dedicated to promoting awareness of the plight of homeless LGBT youth in the United States with the goal of generating responses on local and national levels from government funders, foundations, and the LGBT community.

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