Friday, April 24, 2009

April 7, 2009

Your support and assistance is needed on a most urgent matter: the continued funding of Homeless Youth Services at Metropolitan Community Church of New York (MCCNY), which includes Sylvia’s Place overnight shelter and drop-in services for LGBTQ youth.

The Department of Youth and Community Development recently refused funding requests from MCCNY Homeless Youth Services and Bronx Community Pride, and significantly reduced funding for Green Chimneys. All three organizations offer services to runaway and homeless LGBTQ youth.

Without these funds:

• Over 1,500 LGBTQ homeless youth will be left vulnerable to verbal, physical and sexual assault and scapegoating by heterosexual youth at mainstream shelters.

• Rates of suicide, street work and HIV infection among LGBTQ homeless youth will increase; critical services for LGBTQ homeless youth like medical care, case management and employment assistance will end.

• The city’s bed count for LGBTQ youth will drop from a meager 75 beds to a disastrous 40 total beds.

• The City will spend more money addressing the repercussions of returning youth to the street than those saved by not funding safe havens for LGBTQ youth.

This crisis requires immediate action. We are calling on you as a City legislator to coordinate a press conference in order to address these funding cuts and develop a plan to ensure that City LGBTQ homeless and runaway youth shelters receive the critical funding they need to maintain services to vulnerable youth. We are also calling on City Council to introduce legislation that would provide protocol and oversight for DYCD funding decisions, so that they may cut short similar destructive choices in the future.

Our funding must be restored and restored immediately. The consequences for the youth and the financial costs associated with clients who will end up sick or in trouble are too great to simply be ignored as DYCD has chosen to do.

Metropolitan Community Church of New York Homeless Youth Services is a nonprofit organization of MCCNY Charities located in Hell’s Kitchen. MCCNY Homeless Youth Services has responded to meet the needs of homeless, disenfranchised and marginalized lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer youth and young adults since 2002. Starting with a 6-bed emergency shelter, Sylvia’s Place, MCCNY Homeless Youth Services now has a range of social services offered to shelter residents as well as full-time drop-in services for other runaway and homeless youth.

In March 2009, the Department of Youth and Community Development refused to consider a Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) RFP in the amount of $253,718 for MCCNY Homeless Youth Services. The notice of refusal was accompanied by the statement: “Manhattan is not being considered for a contract award.” This served as the only justification of the funding refusal.

The refusal coincided with a similar RHY RFP rejection issued to Bronx Community Pride, which operates the only crisis and drop-in center for LGBTQ youth in the Bronx, and has been receiving drop-in funds from DYCD since fiscal year 2007. The rejection of Bronx Community Pride’s proposal followed a meeting facilitated by Daniel Symon and attended by multiple other individuals, who refused to give their names. Representatives of Bronx Community Pride were called upon in this meeting to, in essence, defend their program proposal. The Door, another Manhattan youth drop-in center, was also invited to, and attended, an identical meeting.

The DYCD announcement of funds released in late March showed that multiple Manhattan-based programs were not only considered, but awarded contracts under the RHY RFP, including Safe Horizon, Inc. and The Door. Neither program is a specifically-LGBTQ service provider. A City Council-funded study has shown that 35-40% of homeless and runaway youth citywide identify as LGBTQ, and that these youth face serious danger at mainstream shelters. Rapes, violent attacks, verbal abuse and staff neglect are just some of the mistreatment current Sylvia’s Place clients have experienced in mainstream programs. Further, success rates for this population are much higher for LGBTQ youth in LGBTQ-specific programs like Sylvia’s Place, Bronx Community Pride, Green Chimneys, and LGBTQ are negatively affected when denied access to such services.

Despite issuing an appeal to Daniel Symon, we received the same form letter sent to all constituents from Bill Chong in response to an appeal to DYCD Commissioner Jeanne B. Mullgrav. Mr. Chong cited MCCNY Homeless Youth Services “score” as the criteria for their ineligibility, and stated that, “since 2006, DYCD has implemented significant changes to our RHY continuum in order to improve services for all young people, including Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth,” despite all anecdotal evidence from clients, and all clinical research about appropriate models for serving LGBTQ runaway and homeless youth to the contrary. We have yet to get an explanation or a further response to our request to reconsider this funding.

On April 8, we received a letter from DYCD Commissioner Jeanne B. Mullgrav and CC’ed to Daniel Symon in response to our request for an appeal of the funding decision. The letter cited MCCNY’s funding “score,” but contained neither an indication of what criteria that score was based upon, nor an acknowledgement of DYCD’s awareness of the specific needs—and thus specific funding needs—of LGBTQ homeless youth.

In fiscal year 2006, MCCNY Homeless Youth Services received a contract from the Department of Youth and Community Development totaling $400,000 in order to expand our overnight services and begin a comprehensive drop-in program. Green Chimneys and the Ali Forney Center, who also serve LGBTQ homeless youth, were also in receipt of $400,000 contracts in fiscal year 2006. At this time, DYCD acknowledged, through this funding and without even a formal RFP process, that these organizations were the only ones equipped to serve the specific needs of LGBTQ runaway and homeless youth. Since 2006, the Ali Forney Center, Green Chimneys. and Sylvia’s Place have formed a triumvirate of LGBTQ-specific services for runaway and homeless youth, with Sylvia’s Place serving as a first-stop crisis and harm reduction facility; the Ali Forney Center hosting crisis beds with a waiting list of over 100 on any given night; and Green Chimneys coordinating a Transitional Independent Living (TIL) program for LGBTQ youth. DYCD knows now what it knew then: that these small, interdependent programs serve homeless youth well and are, indeed, the only way LGBTQ homeless youth have access to the kind of specialized care they need to survive and to transition into self-sufficiency.

MCCNY Homeless Youth Services has been at the forefront of LGBTQ RHY legislation on the city, state and national level. We support the work Speaker Quinn, Council Member Gerson and Council Member Fidler have already done in response to this crisis, and continue to do on behalf of homeless LGBTQ youth.

This request for secured funding is supported by a coalition of Runaway and Homeless Youth agencies and representatives citywide, including:

Budget cuts from the State and City are currently threatening the available funds for Runaway/Homeless Youth Programs across the City. This is putting many youth at risk of losing valuable resources and lifelines, which is even worse during this difficult job/financial climate. The major threat to our society is that many of these youth will be forced to the streets or other unsafe situations. LGBTQ youth will be at a particularly higher risk because dangers on the street increase dramatically for them. DYCD's inability to fully fund programs to operate their programming models creates dilemmas for agencies who are already financially challenged.

Green Chimneys
Theresa Nolan, Division Director

BCPC is the only LGBT center and the only existing crisis drop-in center in the Bronx for homeless and at-risk youth. BCPC has been the sole voice on the Bronx youth services landscape advocating for homeless and vulnerable youth, both LGBT and straight. These funding cuts will force the closure of BCPC’s homeless and at-risk youth programming, which in turn will jeopardize the health and well being of youth in the Bronx who depend on BCPC’s crisis intervention and case management services on a daily basis. Over the past three years, BCPC has provided crisis referral for over 200 youth, intensive case management for over 700 youth, and has provided approximately 16,000 youth drop-ins with daily structured programming and supportive services.

Without an immediate restoration of funding, BCPC will be forced to turn these youth away to the streets. They will have nowhere else to go and will be forced back to the unsafe and dangerous circumstances that we have worked so tirelessly to help them overcome for the past three years. Manhattan is a different world for our youth population - most are not familiar with it geographically or culturally, and they are unlikely to journey outside the Bronx to seek the services they need.

Additionally, BCPC will be losing the significant trust and relationships with the community that it has built over the past three years. The closure of BCPC’s youth programs will dissolve the numerous collaborative linkages that we have secured with other service organizations in the Bronx, including Bronx AIDS Services, the Community Healthcare Network, and Montefiore's Adolescent AIDS Program. Therefore, this will not only be a loss to BCPC and our youth clients but indeed a tear in the fabric of the runaway and homeless youth services network that we have built in the Bronx.

Lisa Winters, Executive Director
Bronx Community Pride Center

As the editor of the Kicked Out anthology and former homeless queer youth, I urge the DYCD to restore funding to MCCNY Homeless Youth Services: Sylvia's Place. I have had the privilege of working with homeless LGBTQ youth from around the country, and I can confidently say there is nowhere quite like Sylvia’s. LGBTQ youth deserve to be cared for by members of their community, not programs the city decides are ‘culturally competent’ enough.

LGBTQ youth homelessness is an epidemic that is sweeping the nation, and NYC is the front line. We owe it to some of our most vulnerable citizens to give them a safe place to sleep. There are not organizations that will be able to pick up the slack if this funding cut goes through. There will be real youth turned away. These kids will sleep on the streets while waiting to get a bed at another shelter, or because they justifiably do not feel safe or welcome in homophobic institutions that will be their only alternatives. At the end of the day, the youth who call this incredible shelter home do not deserve one more person, let alone the entire city of New York turning their back on them.

Sassafras Lowrey
Author, Kicked Out Anthology

For more information on MCCNY Homeless Youth Services go to:


Homeless Youth Services
446 west 36th st
New York, NY 10018

212-629-7440 Extention 226

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