Earlier this week, the city opened a new homeless shelter in the Bronx called Marsha’s Place. It’s the first shelter specifically for LGBTQ young adults. And in a city where 40 percent of homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, the need for customized shelters like Marsha’s Place is high. But some advocates and homeless youth say there are still too many barriers to getting a spot. Hannah Long-Higgins reports.
It’s 5pm – dinner time at the Hetrick-Martin Institute’s drop-in center at Astor Place. Hetrick Martin serves dinner each night to LGBTQ young people aged 16 to 24. The chef, Julio Cruz, rattles off the menu.
CRUZ: Today we are serving white rice, red beans, fried chicken, and fish.
[Ambi fades down…Regular salad, and two servings of vegetables which are sweet peas and Okra.]
A group of teens and young adults are gathering in the hallway outside the cafeteria doors, ready to eat.
HUGHES 1: HELLO! It’s nice to see you!
Anonymous voice: It’s nice to see you too.
HUGHES: Did you have fun?
[Ambi, fade down]
Bridget Hughes greets a young person in the hallway. She’s the director of youth services at Hetrick-Martin. Many of these kids will head back out into the cold after dinner.
HUGHES 1: There’s an epidemic of LGBT youth homelessness, and the main problem in the day to day is that there are not enough beds in places that are safe for our kids.
Hetrick Martin has been involved in a push to create more housing for homeless LGBTQ youth, especially ones who are older than 21. That’s because, in New York City, when you turn 21 you can no longer stay in youth shelters and for a lot of LGBTQ people in their early 20s, the regular homeless shelters are too dangerous.
NETBURN 1: Good afternoon, welcome to Project Renewal’s Marsha’s House.
Earlier this week, the City officially opened its first shelter for LGBTQ youth. Project Renewal’s CEO Mitch Netburn welcomed a group of city officials
NETBURN 2: We are honored to open the first shelter for LGBTQ young adults in NYC.
There’s a big rainbow flag behind the table of speakers, which includes the first lady of New York, Chirlane McCray, who has been an advocate for those struggling with mental illness, an issue that greatly affects this population.
McCRAY: The need for this shelter is a reminder that, although we’ve come a long way on LGBTQI rights, we still have a long way to go
Marsha’s House will eventually hold around 80 people ages 21 to 30, and provide counseling services. It’s the type of place where someone like 21-year-old Skye O’Neal Adrian might have stayed. At 19, he was kicked out by his parents for being gay. He did what a lot of homeless teens have to do–used dating apps to find a place to stay at night.
ADRIAN: I had to be subjected to sex to be able to like, stay there, and that was like a whole other problem.
He’s in transitional housing now, and he’s glad the city sees the need for more LGBT -specific housing, but says there’s a huge hurdle. You have to stay in an adult DHS shelter for 21 days before you have a shot at getting a bed in Marsha’s Place. And for Adrian and his friends, the adult shelters are terrifying and not places that 21-24 year old LGBT youth want to enter in the first place.
ADRIAN: On top of the discrimination and the persecution you face being who you are, and being homeless, you have to do that for an additional 21 days for you to access a safe space.
Carl Siciliano is the Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center, another organization that serves LGBTQ homeless youth. He says he’s seen a 20% increase in the number of homeless LGBT youth showing up at the Ali Forney Center in the last year.
SICILIANO: We’re sitting here in this harsh new political climate with more and more and more kids coming to us, we just really need the city to recognize that there’s this hole in the service system for homeless youth that is disproportionately hurting and harming LGBT youth and they need to plug it up, they need to fix this, and they need to do it now.
The city plans to open as many as 90 homeless shelters under a new plan the mayor announced this month. Advocates for LGBT youth will continue to encourage the city to raise the age of Runaway Homeless Youth to 24, in hope that some of the shelters will help fill the gap. Hannah Long-Higgins, Columbia Radio News.