"You're all family now," said the devilishly handsome Bill Torres, Director of Community Resources at the Ali Forney Center for homeless LGBT youth in NYC, where I went last week to a training for volunteers.
He was telling us how we are going to be family for the homeless youth that wind up at the Ali Forney Center.
These are not youth who are suffering a minor rift with their families. These are people who have been beaten, abused, and turned out of their homes, often with a great deal of violence and emotional trauma.
Some as young as 9 years old.
Some gay, some transgender.
Some intentionally burned by their parents, some missing fingers because of abuse, some with deep emotional scars.
Their experiences with more traditional shelter environments are often unpleasant and dangerous, despite the fact that the majority of homeless kids in NYC are LGBT. The Ali Forney Center is home for these youths, and we will be their family.
I'm in love -- and the Ali Forney Center is my new crush.
Please get in touch with Bill if you're interested in doing some volunteer work at the Center.
You can do it once a month, or once a week or once a year. You can work with kids, or do some admin work, sit on a committee, or prepare a holiday party.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. They've lost hundreds of thousands in funding, as gay organizations are not the top of this list in a recession, and their waiting list gets longer and longer, as other facilities have closed their programs for LGBT kids, but they haven't closed their doors as so many have. You can donate here.
Mistreatment of children of any kind never fails to hit me at the core, and my heart went out to the kids he described in stories that brought tears to my eyes several times that night. My own son is now 18, and I would do anything for him. Even the thought of him in danger or hurt pains me horribly, and the same is true for the thought of other kids in trouble. I knew with all my heart that I was in the right place.
The importance of the Forney Center is that its personnel specialize in LGBT kids, and knows who they are and how they relate. Other shelters don't necessarily know how to do that. They often rely on straight volunteers, deacons or low paid staff. This has resulted in some horrible abuse, and although one would like to believe that is all in the past, it is still ongoing.
This is especially problematic because 20-40% of homeless youths nationally are LGBT, and the numbers are likely higher in New York City. Torres estimates that there are somewhere between 12,000-25,000 homeless youth in the city, the majority of which have an LGBT or questioning identity.
Part of the problem is that being gay is now considered "morally acceptable" on a cultural level, so younger and younger kids feel that it's okay to come out, and they are being thrown onto the streets by parents in increasing numbers. 25% of LGBT youth are kicked out of their homes after coming out, 40% of homeless youth who identify as LGBT, and almost 50% of LGBT homeless youth have attempted suicide.
It breaks my heart that even one of these little angels is subjected to this kind of treatment, and I'm glad to be helping a little bit.
I'm due to get started in the next few weeks, and I'll let you know how it goes.
Meanwhile, you can donate here.