UNION SQUARE — A small group of activists braved the blustery rain on Wednesday night to carry dozens of empty boxes into Union Square.
On each box, a few simple sentences were written.
“T. Doe, 19 years old. I like to photograph the beautiful things I see. I’m a real person,” one box read.
“Shantae Doe. I am 17 yrs. old. I miss my grandma. I’m a real person,” read another.
Each box represented a homeless youth, 3,800 of whom go without shelter in New York City every night, organizers said. The boxes, featuring names and ages and interests, were meant to convey that although they might be homeless, they’re still people with real problems.
Homeless youths in New York City have gained much attention since Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed dramatic budget cuts to programs that provide shelter beds for them.
“I was beyond shocked,” said Carl Siciliano, the founder and executive director of the Ali Forney Center, the largest organization in the country that provides services for LGBT youths. “It’s inhumane to leave kids in the streets without beds.”
Siciliano said 200 kids were on the waiting list to get into the emergency shelter housed at the Forney Center on Wednesday night.
“When you won’t provide the basic necessities they need to survive, you’re putting their lives in danger,” Siciliano said.
Now, Siciliano and several other advocacy organizations are demanding that an extra $3 million in government money (which can fund about 100 shelter beds per year) go towards providing beds for homeless youths every year until the need is fulfilled.
About 60 advocacy organizations recently signed on to a letter sent to Gov. Cuomo and other pols formally demanding more money and more beds.
Jake Goodman, a founding member of the advocacy organization Queer Rising, said that their request was not unreasonable.
“It’s a drop in the bucket. It’s nothing,” Goodman said. “[But] it’s needed.”
Of the homeless youths in the city, 40 percent identify as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and LGBT youths are eight times more likely to become homeless than their straight counterparts.
Siciliano said that there are about 200 beds available for homeless youths in the city each night. When these individuals reach the age of 18, they are eligible to enter adult shelters, but most choose not to, especially if they are LGBT.
“They tend to get victimized, picked on [in adult shelters],” Siciliano said.
Queer Rising, the Forney Center and several other organizations are planning a larger rally to take place in Union Square at 6 p.m. on Monday.
“What the government did was a kick in the butt and really a wake-up call,” said Siciliano. “If the gay community isn’t rising up to say let’s protect these kids, who will?”