Mayor Bloomberg Reaches Out

The average age of a homeless kid who self-identifies as LGBTQ is 14 years old. 

 In October of 2009, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg formed the “Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) Runaway and Homeless Youth”. The Mayor said he was “opening up a new front focused on serving LGBTQ young people.” He promised: “The Commission’s recommendations (will) provide a blueprint for innovative and evidence-based solutions.”

While the commissioners studied and discussed, copied and collated, through the winter and then the spring of 2010, an estimated 4000 homeless kids spent Christmas, and Valentine’s Day and Easter Sunday on the mean streets of New York City. Although they are only about 5% – 10% of the general population, at any point in time, a whopping 20% – 40% of those kids were LGBTQ.

Just a reminder, the average homeless LGBTQ kid is 14 years old. (http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/06/homelessness_numbers.html)

The city of New York provides funding for 250 youth beds. That means while the Commission commissioned, some 3750 kids had to make other arrangements. Very few kids choose adult homeless shelters more than once. They are easy prey there. The streets are safer. The luckiest find a place in a privately funded shelter like The Ali Forney Center. When I checked today, they reported 77 beds and 199 kids on the waiting list.

Many kids try to couch surf with friends, but there are always nights when no one comes through. Too many resort to “survival sex”, trading their half-grown bodies for a meal and place to sleep. And they ride the train. In New York City, that’s the first self-preservation trick kids learn. Take the A Train from one end of the line to the other because it’s the longest ride. Yes, the transit cops might hassle you, and there’s always a chance of being robbed, but it’s the safest way to get some sleep.

The kids form “families” among themselves. There’s safety in numbers, but there’s also comfort in someone who understands. They share their stories. How her stepfather threw her out when he saw her holding hands with a girlfriend from middle school. How he came home from 8th grade after confiding in his mother he thought was in the wrong body, to find her packed and gone. They adopt stray dogs so they’ll bark if someone comes too near when they have to sleep outside.

And speaking of sleeping outside, remember how Fox News disparaged the Zucotti Park Occupiers for being infiltrated with homeless people? They were talking about these kids; these homeless teenagers, many of them cut off from their families because their Fox watching Christian parents couldn’t find enough love in their hearts to accept their own child. They gravitated to Zucotti Park because it was safe, and there were people there who cared about them.

It took nine months for Mayor Bloomberg’s commission to compile a 59-page report. (http://www.nyc.gov/html/om/pdf/2010/pr267_10_report.pdf )  It has charts and graphs. It has footnotes and appendices. It begins with a letter from the commissioners to Mayor Bloomberg declaring themselves “immensely grateful to you for the unprecedented opportunity to work together to help New York City lead the nation in improving the lives of this vulnerable group of young people.” It even provides links to the curricula vitae of all twenty-four celebrated commission members. I particularly liked the colorful cover art.

In June of 2010, among a rousing round of sound and fury and no small amount of self-congratulations, the Bloomberg Commission finally released their report. To absolutely no one’s surprise, they found LGBTQ youth were at a higher risk for sexual violence and victimization, substance abuse, and contracting HIV. They noted alarming rates of mental illness, including serious depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies. They gave Mayor Bloomberg ten recommendations. Number four is “Broaden access to runaway and homeless youth services for LGBTQ youth.”

This week, Mayor Bloomberg proudly announced his new budget, in which he has made a significant change to funding for the 250 beds the city now provides for 4000 children. He cut 160 of them.

The kids would have fared better if the Mayor had just sent them the money he spent on the fancy report.

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