Adam Polaski

Queer Rising Advocates for NYC's Homeless Youth

Filed By Adam Polaski | November 23, 2011 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement
Tags: Bloomberg, budget, direct action group, LGBT homeless, LGBT youth, Natasha Dillon, New York City, queer, Queer Rising, Times Square

QueerRising2.jpegWhile much of the rest of the LGBT community gears up for the holiday season, there's one sector of the community that's being overlooked or forgotten: homeless queer youth. In New York City, an estimated 3,800 homeless youth sleep on the streets without shelter, and of that population, an estimated 1,600 identify as LGBTQ. Only 200 beds in youth shelters are available to those youth.

This year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed cutting significant funding from programs that provide those beds, but according to NPR, those funds have been restored to the city and state budgets. The 200 beds remain for the youth shelters.

But with so many homeless youth, 200 beds simply isn't enough. That's why some LGBT advocates are pushing for the governor, as well as Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to allocate more money to help keep youth off the streets. Three million extra dollars could provide 100 more beds for homeless youth, which advocates see as a temporary solution to the problem - a transition phase before a more stable, permanent shelter.

One of these groups fighting on behalf of queer homeless youth is Queer Rising, an organization that uses direct action to raise awareness about LGBT issues.

On Saturday, November 19, Queer Rising successfully executed a demonstration in Times Square of New York City by taking advantage of Forever 21's pedestrian street camera to broadcast a message to the governor. The message read: "Where Do Homeless Queer Kids Go On XMas?" and then listed Cuomo's phone number. In conjunction with the visual, which Queer Rising managed to broadcast intermittently for an hour and a half, demonstrators distributed nearly a thousand fliers with information about youth homelessness and what they can do to help.

Natasha Dillon, co-founder of Queer Rising, explained that queer youth homelessness is not just something that the broader population doesn't understand - it's also an issue that's fallen off of the radar of much of the LGBT community.

"Even in our own community, it's not top priority for a lot of people, and it really should be," Dillon explained to The Bilerico Project. "We don't have the ability to get big hype around this like our community was able to do around marriage, so us doing certain actions like this brings awareness to the general community, but also to our own community, letting them know what they can do."

While the fights for marriage equality and the repeal of DADT have raged over the last few years, queer youth homelessness has recurred again and again as a perpetual problem, especially in New York City. Kids are often thrown out by intolerant families or unable to stay in their homes for other problems related to the fact that they identify as LGBT. Although pop culture has provided more LGBT faces and role models in recent years, the issue of queer youth homelessness is not going away.

"Kids are coming out at a much, much younger age," Dillon said, explaining that while this is not a negative development, it is one that comes with a host of new issues. "They're seeing people on TV come out, they're expecting that life is going to be easy for them, and that's just still not always the case, unfortunately, for our community."

"LGBT homeless youth are less capable of advocating for these issues, mainly because they are dealing with a multitude of other issues in their personal lives and their day-to-day survival," she said.

queerrising3.jpegThat leaves the struggle up to the rest of the community, much of which has yet to step up do the plate.

"It's not a 'hot topic' issue," Dillon said. "It's not something that can be sold like marriage or DADT. What we're left with here is a really devastated, marginalized part of our community. ... It's not a marketable problem, but it's a huge, huge epidemic that we're facing."

Queer Rising's eyes - and those of other passionate advocates for homeless youth - will continue to watch the New York state and city budgets as adjustments continue to be made. But even if no cuts are made to the beds currently available in the shelter system, the reality is that there are still not enough beds, and pressure must continue to raise the amount of money directed at this issue.

Dillon said that Queer Rising will continue to push for the city and state to pay more attention to homeless youth. Beyond that, they'll continue to push for members of the LGBT community and the larger population to recognize this issue and start caring about it.

"We want to let people know that this is an epidemic in our community," Dillon said. "Having our kids living on the streets and not have enough services to get them off the streets is unacceptable."

img courtesy of Krysta Hibbard

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Sad story...I hope they make progress in the right many's really a shame.