By Tara Kyle
MANHATTAN — Budget cuts proposed by the state government could result in a nearly 20 percent loss in shelter beds for young runaways, according to the Department of Youth and Community Development.
The specter of losing $1.4 million in funding for beds at state shelters has sparked fear among New York providers of homeless youth services.
"It's really hard and really sad and depressing," said Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center, which houses LGBT youth. "We're in a situation where there are just hundreds of kids stranded out there in dangerous situations."
Those dangers, Siciliano said, include turning to survival means including crime and prostitution. About 20 percent of teens at the Ali Forney Center arrive infected with HIV, he said.
If passed, the proposed budget cuts before the State Legislature would cost the city 19 of the 106 shelter beds allocated to homeless youth between the ages of 16 and 20, according to Susan Haskell, DYCD's assistant commissioner for vulnerable and special needs youth.
That's an improvement over the 37 beds anticipated to be lost when Gov. Andrew Cuomo originally proposed consolidating a variety of youth programs into a single grant block, called the Primary Prevention Incentive Program (PPIP).
But the consequences, in Siciliano's mind, would still be "disastrous."
Because a typical shelter bed serves around 10 young people over the course of the year, roughly 200 would likely be impacted, Haskell said.
Over nine previous rounds of state and city budget cuts, shelter beds have gone untouched. In December, city runaway service program faced cuts — since restored — of between 33 and 50 percent.
And while Haskell said she's seen tremendous resilience from the teens her agency works with, she worries about their futures. Beyond youth struggling with families who don't accept their sexual orientation — LGBT youth make up a disproportionate number of the city's runaways— the group affected also includes pregnant women and those who've suffered sexual abuse.
"This is really life or death for many of them," said Susan Haskell, DYCD's Assistant Commissioner for Vulnerable and Special Needs Youth. "They're basically out there with no support at all."