Storm-Wrecked NY Gay Youth Center Gets Quick Help
NEW YORK - It took only hours for Superstorm Sandy’s surging waters to destroy an emergency drop-in center for homeless gay youths. Four feet of water swamped the hallways and rooms, buckling the linoleum floors and caking the electrical outlets with sea salt.
But almost as quickly, a social media outpouring helped raise money for a new, bigger Ali Forney Center to keep helping dozens of young people a day with medical care, counseling and a safe place to sleep.
"I wish every day thousands of people would help get homeless kids off the street," said Carl Siciliano, executive director of the last-ditch refuge for homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths. "Too bad it takes a storm to get people to see how bad they have it."
Siciliano founded the drop-in center in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood 10 years ago, naming it after Ali Forney, a gay 22-year-old who was shot to death on a Harlem street in 1997. He had been homeless since age 13, when his mother threw him out.
City officials estimate LGBT youths represent about half the city’s nearly 4,000 homeless young people, who sleep outdoors or in city subways, abandoned houses and even on rooftops. More than 100 would arrive at the center daily looking for support. The city reserves about 250 shelter beds for them, and Ali Forney offers 77 in various places, about 30 of them city-funded.
Even before Sandy, the center had planned to relocate to the 8,600-square-foot Harlem space, which is six times bigger than the original one and will be open 24 hours a day. Paying for the move and renovation was a big challenge - until Sandy came along.
The center, which was evacuated ahead of the Oct. 29 storm, was hit by the same surge of water along the Hudson River that swamped a power substation and flooded commuter tunnels.
A blogger picked up Siciliano’s Facebook posting about damage to the center, and it quickly went viral, tweeted to hundreds of thousands of followers by actors Pam Grier and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.