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City Invests $9.5 Million To Address, Help Prevent Homelessness Among LGBTQ Youth

May 31, 2018 - 8:24 pm

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray announced this week that the city will invest $9.5 million over the next three years to address homelessness among LGBTQ youth, and also ensure that safe and supportive health and support services are available.

McCray announced the plan on Wednesday. Among the items it calls for are a first-ever shelter youth shelter for people 24 and under.

The plan is part of the Unity Project, which the city created last year to ensure that every LGBTQ young person is safe, supported, and healthy in New York City.

AUDIO: Alex Silverman Reports On The Importance Of A Family's Support, With Remarks By City Council Speaker Corey Johnson And Councilman Daniel Dromm

McCray noted that while society has made huge strides when it comes to LGBTQ rights and acceptance, there is still a long way to go and there are many hurdles.

“Even today in 2018, there are politicians, and the people who enable them, trying to take us backward in time with regressive policies and rhetoric that encourage division and cruelty over unity and love,” McCray said. “So today, I’m here to say that in New York City, we choose love.”

McCray noted that within New York City, there are many LGBTQ young people who come from loving and supportive families, but there are many who do not.

“Some are bullied at home; forced to hide who they are. Others are rejected outright. Left without a family support system to rely on, these LGBTQ young people – particularly young people of color – experience extreme physical and mental health disparities, and higher rates of homelessness and unemployment,” she said. “Think about what it would mean to hide your feelings and thoughts, even among the people who are supposed to love you unconditionally. Think about what it would feel like to not feel safe in your own home, or anywhere. This emotional distress is real, and it’s dangerous.”

McCray said half of all LGBTQ youth in New York City report feeling sad or hopeless for extended periods of time, and LGBTQ young people are more than three times more likely to attempt suicide than non-LGBTQ youth.

“The wounds we carry as young people become the scars that we wear for the rest of our lives,” she said.

To address that, the city will invest the $9.5 million in a multi-pronged approach that includes the plans for the youth shelter.

Also part of the plan is a first-of-its-kind program to train clinicians of color to help guide families to accept their LGBTQ children, the expansion of a clinician training program to help more than 600 families in the child welfare system, an LGBTQ family acceptance program geared toward Spanish-speaking communities, and a program where parents and caregivers of LGBTQ youth can come together as peer-to-peer advocates.

McCray emphasized the need not just for refuge, but acceptance and support.

“Having a family is so much more than just a bed to sleep in at night. Having a family who accepts you for who you are means growing up together – with all the joys and sorrows that entails; sharing traditional holidays and celebrating birthdays. It means having loved ones to introduce your significant other to. It means having a support system; someone to lean during the tough times,” she said. “So it’s not enough to just give young people a place to stay during a crisis.”

The city will also extend hours at three of its seven existing youth drop-in centers – making it so that for the first time ever, every borough will have a drop-in center that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week to provide health care, counseling, case management, and referrals.

Given that the rate of HIV transmission is higher for young gay and bisexual men and transgender people of color, new HIV clinics will be opening in Harlem and Central Brooklyn, McCray said. They will offer safe access to PrEP – or pre-exposure prophylaxis – that people at high risk for HIV can take to lower their chances of infection – as well as supportive sexual health services and referrals.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson emphasized the need to curb the homelessness crisis in general, particularly through intervention for young people.

“Stopping the cycle of homelessness in infancy is one of the best ways to ensure homelessness doesn’t become a lifelong, chronic problem for our young people,” he said. “The issue of reducing our homeless population may seem intractable to some; a goal that can’t be achieved. But that’s not the way that we see it.”

But Johnson also emphasized that solving youth homelessness requires understanding its roots – and a disproportionate number of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ.

“While under 10 percent of young people identify as LGBTQ, the proportion of homeless youth who identify that way is as high as 40 percent – that’s according to a UCLA study. City statistics paint an even starker portrait when we’re talking about people 24 years old and younger who are homeless. According to the 2015 city youth count, almost 60 percent of youth living in shelters, and 30 percent of youth living on the streets, identify as LGBTQ,” Johnson said. “Those are staggering, heartbreaking numbers.”

In March, the City Council enacted three laws focused on runaway and homeless youth. One, which Johnson sponsored, required the city to come up with a plan to provide enough shelter beds for all young people who need it. Another allows homeless youth to stay in transitional and crisis shelters for longer periods of time, and a third expands services for people between the ages of 21 and 24 – while youth services previously had been cut off at 21.

But with the $9.5 million investment, the city is taking it a step further in a “proactive, targeted way,” Johnson said. He said the goal is to prevent teens and young people from becoming homeless in the first place.