Advocates for homeless youth are praising a surprise breakthrough that came as Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council reached final agreement June 11 on an $89.2 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 — an increase in a new city commitment to fund shelter beds for homeless youth 21 to 24 years old from $1 million to $3 million.
The money will fund 60 shelter beds — and the commitment represents the first time public money will provide youth shelter space for homeless New Yorkers after they reach age 21. Until now, youth sheltered in facilities funded by the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) aged out on their 21st birthday and needed to look to adult facilities if they did not yet have permanent housing. Many young people 21-24 — especially those who are LGBTQ — feel unwelcome and unsafe in the city’s adult shelter system. According to the de Blasio administration, the new shelter facilities will meet DYCD’s criteria for LGBTQ-affirming and supportive housing.
“Twenty years ago, Ali Forney was murdered on the streets of New York City at the age of 22,” noted Carl Siciliano, the founding executive director of the Ali Forney Center that provides housing and other services to homeless LGBTQ youth. “Since that time we’ve made tremendous progress making New York City a safer place for LGBT youth. But a gaping hole had remained. LGBT youth between the ages of 21 and 24 did not have access to safe shelter and their lives were still in danger. I am absolutely jubilant at the decision to create 60 beds for 21 to 24-year-olds and am profoundly grateful to the de Blasio administration and to Speaker Johnson for at long last listening to the cries of homeless LGBT youth and their advocates. This is a happy day.”
Beth Hofmeister, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project, said, “We thank the city for funding 60 beds that will be dedicated to young adults who wish to access youth-focused shelter and services.
Since former Mayor Michael Bloomberg convened a special commission in 2010 to examine the city’s crisis in homeless youth, advocates organized as the Campaign for Youth Shelter have pressed him and later de Blasio to expand eligibility for youth shelters up to the age of 25. During the first four years of the de Blasio administration, the city dramatically stepped up its commitment to housing homeless youth, tripling the number of publicly funded shelter beds to 750, but it did not move on the 21 to 24-year-old age group.
Then, in March of this year, the City Council unanimously voted to require DYCD to implement youth shelter services for this population. In an April 10 response to the mayor’s preliminary budget proposal, the Council called for the funding of 100 new shelter beds to meet the needs of homeless young people 21 to 24, which echoed the proposal made by the Coalition for Homeless Youth and other advocates.
In a City Hall ceremony two weeks ago, First Lady Chirlane McCray announced $9.5 million in new initiatives focused on LGBTQ youth, including spending on family acceptance programs and PrEP outreach targeting adolescents. Only $1 million of that package, however, was devoted to shelter beds for 21 to 24-year-olds — enough for just 20 beds.
Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who in February told DYCD officials, “I don’t really care what the amount of money is… when it comes to getting the requisite number of beds to homeless young people, we have to come up with the money,” nonetheless was upbeat in his comments at the May 30 City Hall event, saying that the $1 million and the overall $9.5 million package was “unbelievably moving and affirming to these young people, I believe, and to me.”
Advocates were less enthusiastic.
Siciliano said, “We have over 100 21 to 24-year-olds on our waiting list right now. I urge the city to add at least 100 beds in the coming budget.” He also pointed out that more than 20 beds — funded privately — already serve the 21 to 24-year-old population, so an expenditure of just $1 million might not create any new shelter opportunities but simply pay for existing ones in a different way.
Making clear she wasn’t satisfied with what the city was calling an “initial investment” in sheltering 21 to 24-year-olds, Hofmeister, while acknowledging it is not clear exactly how many beds are needed, said, “We are definitely not there yet.”
Some of the young people who joined McCray on the stage for the May 30 event were also unhappy with what they viewed as an insufficient commitment to housing homeless young people up to the age of 25. Queerocracy, a youth-led grassroots advocacy and leadership initiative of VOCAL-NY, charged that its members “were not meaningfully engaged” in establishing the priorities for the package of initiatives announced on May 30. The group contacted McCray’s office outlining their concerns and asking for the opportunity for a sit-down.
Less than two weeks later, the de Blasio administration had agreed to close half of the gap between the full $5 million ask and the initial $1 million city offer.
In a written statement to Gay City News, McCray said, “I’m proud of our partnership with the City Council to expand on the investment we’ve made to make sure that homeless LGBTQ youth have more safe places to stay. With these two additional shelters for young people up to age 24, we are widening the safety net for our young people when they are in crisis.”
Johnson, reflecting on the increased commitment to new shelter beds, said, “I have said throughout this budget process that I want to do the most for those who have the least, and I can’t think of a more deserving population than our runaway and homeless youth…. These shelters will help these vulnerable young people, many of whom have been thrown out of their homes because they are LGBTQ. I am very proud of this budget, and very proud of this city’s commitment to the LGBTQ community.”
Queens’ Daniel Dromm, the out gay Council Finance Committee chair who also heads up the LGBT Caucus, said, “Supporting runaway and homeless youth is a top priority for the Council, and this budget reflects that… The $3 million we secured will equip service providers with beds and other resources they need to care for these survivors. I am proud to have worked alongside Speaker Johnson to move our city forward in this manner.”
“I think that Chirlane McCray and Speaker Corey Johnson’s announcement for an expansion on funding for youth beds is a great start in the best direction in restoring trust with our LGBTQ youth," VOCAL-NY’s Queerocracy organizer Janae’ Sumter said in response to news of the increased funding. “As there is still work to do, we look forward to working with this administration in addressing the general issue of homelessness and understanding the importance of involving the voices of the community.”
In a sure sign that only time will tell how far even this increased commitment goes toward erasing homelessness among the city’s young people under 25, however, the Legal Aid Society’s Hofmeister said, “We will continue to push this administration until every single young person experiencing homelessness that seeks refuge and support from the continuum of providers gets access to these specialized services.”