As I noted a while back, I'm training to be a LIFE coach for homeless LGBTQ youth of the amazing Ali Forney Center in New York City. "LIFE" stands for, uh, something I can't remember right now. (uh oh, new recruit demerits)
About 20 of us, the largest class of coaches ever, is ready to graduate and hit the streets. We've been through weeks of training about every aspect of working with today's homeless LGBTQ youth and there's a lot to know. Harm reduction. Suicide prevention. Various identities that a lot of us are kind of stumbling over. What "shade" means, and, more importantly, "shade-free." How to engage with youth as an older person. How to handle disagreements and altercations. And on and on. Oy, endless.
But at last the schoolhouse bell has rung, and the Ali Forney LIFE coaches are free! Today we are holding our first meeting with some of the residents. (The "kids", I was going to say, but I think maybe that's pejorative, or something, oh, where's my notes!)
"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 August to a training for volunteers. And indeed, we have become a family. It's good to have family, ersatz or not, and someone who's on your side. So many LGBTQ youth don't.
Bill explained 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.
But whether they are in need of nurturing and mentorship or not, they're still kids who are going to look as us as a bunch of weird old do-gooders who have nothing better to do. Is there no YouTube? Is there no Warcraft III? So I put on a nice pair of pants and a sweater, and tried not to look like an old crone with a wart on the side of my nose. I've covered it pretty well with the makeup, but now it looks like hives. Ah well. Hopefully I will connect with some quiet gimlet-eyed youth with deep thoughts (much as I was) who hopes to accomplish something with his or her life. Or else they'll say hello and sidle over to a friend and say quietly "Oh my god, did you see that one? She just said hello and I could barely keep from laughing." But it's all in a good cause. To paraphrase Dostoevsky, "If not a philosopher, at least she was the cause of philosophy in others."
And to think that this whole amazing thing almost winked out of existence a couple of years ago. It was saved by the intervention of the Episcopal Church, thank goodness. And then the Bloomberg Administration threatened to cut their funding, but it was restored a month ago or so. Thank goodness. Where would you go if you had no one to turn to?
I honestly don't understand why $700B for Wall Street, but $600K is too much for homeless queers is acceptable. Our priorities are all wrong.
Thinking of Ali Forney, after whom the Ali Forney Center was named, I see in my mind's eye a young person who needed love and got instead a childhood of hell. "Hell is for children," isn't that how the Pat Benatar song goes?
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.
Wish me luck.
UPDATE: We had a great meeting, the kids were awesome, and the other LIFE coaches fabulous! Here's the group of us that will be working together in one of the houses - Mark, Me, Todd, David and Dason.