At New York City’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, we welcome over 6,000 people into our building at 208 West 13th Street every week. At any given moment, our lobby is filled with tourists looking to tap into LGBT history; clients getting support services; community members receiving referrals to resources all over the city; people attending a community meeting to organize and activate and always, always, vibrant LGBTQ young people who are part of our youth program.
More than 1,000 young people access our youth program each year. Because of the sheer volume of participation, I unfortunately don’t get the chance to sit down with each and every young person to hear about how they came to The Center. But whenever I can, I seize the opportunity to engage with our young people, the future leaders of the LGBTQ community.
I recently met with Dara,* one of these young leaders, to talk about her participation in The Center’s Foster Care Project. The Foster Care Project is an internship for people who have had experience with New York City’s foster care system. Dara bravely shares her story with the goal of making the foster care system a better environment for LGBT youth, and to help others in similar situations feel understood and supported.
Dara told me that her home life growing up was, put most simply, not very accepting. When Dara was 15, her “hothead” father, a stickler for rules, exploded in anger after discovering that Dara had broken his rule about having a Facebook page and using it to talk with friends. He flew into a rage and beat her as she cried for him to stop. The next day at school, with her bruises noticeable, Dara’s guidance counselor called the police. She was removed from her home and placed into foster care with her aunt. Dara’s sisters were angry that she had told the truth, and asked why she couldn’t just say she got into a fight to avoid the family being separated. Dara felt guilt and regret that she wouldn’t be able to stay with her sisters in their home, but ultimately knew that she had to escape this environment that was violent, unaccepting and stifled her ability to see a future for herself.
Around this time, Dara’s cousin encouraged her to come to The Center. Dara says it changed her life, and that The Center became her touchstone; a place where she feels supported, accepted and connected to her community. After living for several years with her aunt, Dara, now 18 years old, had to find another option. There wasn’t a good one; her relationship with her mother, who struggled with alcoholism, was strained and she didn’t have enough money to get her own place. Dara left her aunt’s and began couch-surfing, constantly worrying about where she was going to stay. Today, Dara is now back with her mother in an apartment where they have several roommates. It’s not the most stable arrangement but it is, for now, the only option Dara has.
Dara isn't alone. According to a recent report by the Center for American Progress, as many as 400,000 LGBT youth each year face the prospect of homelessness. This amounts to as much as 40% of the nation's total number of homeless youth. Like Dara, many are fleeing dangerous home lives or the heartbreaking rejection of loved ones who do not accept them for who they are.
On top of the unimaginable stress these young people face, they also have to navigate their local community's network of social services and temporary shelters for homeless individuals. Through The Center's work to connect LGBT people to these services we see firsthand how, despite constant efforts to adequately resource them, public programs in New York often fall short of meeting critical housing needs.
That's why, as our city faces its greatest homeless crisis since the Great Depression, we support a proposal by Queens Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi to find a better way to aid the individuals like Dara that we at The Center serve. This plan, called Home Stability Support, would replace the state's current outdated rental subsidies to ensure more New Yorkers have access to safe, affordable housing. It would create a new statewide rent supplement for families and individuals who are eligible for public assistance benefits and who are facing eviction, homelessness, or loss of housing due to domestic violence or hazardous living conditions.
Most importantly, Home Stability Support would provide some of the most vulnerable members of the LGBT community with the stable footing to be able to take care of other urgent needs, like employment and healthcare.
Our young people, like Dara, shouldn’t be worrying about which couch they’ll sleep on tonight. They should be looking to their future and realizing the incredible potential they have to become leaders and trailblazers in the LGBT community and beyond. With Home Stability Support, we would be equipped with a powerful tool to help them do just that and become the happy, healthy adults they deserve to be.
*Dara is a pseudonym used to protect her identity