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Daylight News

The Ali Forney Center Is Making a Difference for Homeless LGBTQ+ Youth

By
Team Daylight
The Ali Forney Center (AFC) is the largest organization for LGBTQ+ homeless youth in New York City, and one of the meaningful causes for the queer community Daylight has supported in 2021.

With a 24-hour program, AFC never closes its doors to homeless LGBTQ+ youth in New York.

Making a difference for homeless LGBTQ+ youth

Of AFC’s clients, 80% were kicked out of their homes, and the center notes that 40% of NYC’s homeless youth are LGBTQ+. Homeless LGBTQ+ youth are particularly vulnerable, as 62% have attempted or considered suicide.

AFC’s clients are 60% African American and 30% Latinx, so it helps that the organization’s staff are primarily individuals of color who can relate to them.

With numerous board members who personally understand the challenges of the LGBTQ+ community, AFC is well positioned to meet the needs of NYC’s homeless LGBTQ+ youth. They include Marti Gould Cummings, a nonbinary drag artist and political activist, Louis Miller, a gay cardiologist and transracial Korean adoptee, and Sam Ratelle, an immigrant from Honduras, who was himself a resident of AFC when his family evicted him at the age of 17 for being gay.  

How Did AFC Get Started?

Founded by Carl Siciliano in 2002, AFC began in memory of Ali Forney, a homeless Black gender-nonconforming youth who was murdered in 1997, at the age of 22 in New York.

From 1994, in his work as the Director of Safe Space, a drop-in center in Times Square, Siciliano remembers Ali as a vibrant young performer, who felt safer on the street than sleeping in a Catholic-run shelter that told queer kids they would go to hell.

Following Forney’s tragic death, Siciliano felt as if he had to do more to provide safe shelter for homeless LGBTQ+ youth, so he started AFC with just six cots in a church basement.

While the center has expanded, so has its waiting list for services, which is why Siciliano is grateful for financial support from donors and businesses like Daylight that fund much-needed programs and services.

Siciliano is no longer in charge, but still serves as AFC’s National Model Replication Consultant.

How to Support the Ali Forney Center

There are a variety of ways to support AFC, from volunteering your time to donating if you’re able.

Volunteering

All volunteers undergo a background check and interview, and receive a two-hour Standard of Care training, so you can feel comfortable in supporting homeless LGBTQ+ youth. You can find roles that range from meal prep to mentorship.

Group volunteering is an option for co-workers, community or faith-based groups, or student clubs to come together in support of LGBTQ+ youth. AFC’s four annual special events — the Spring Talent Show, Summer Prom, Fall Ball and Winter Holiday Carnival — provide opportunities for volunteer groups.

Joining a planning committee or volunteering at an event are two ways to help with fundraising — while having fun yourself! Past hosts for the annual fall gala A Place at The Table have included Billy Porter, Tituss Burgess and Todrick Hall.

Donations

Sometimes the best way to support an organization is to provide much-needed funds directly, so it can continue to do meaningful work.

You an also donate items the center needs to support LGBTQ+ youth.

You can purchase items from two Amazon wishlists to benefit LGBTQ+ youth. A general list includes clothing, footwear, blankets, lipbalms and gift cards, and a separate wishlist includes unique provisions to meet the additonal challenges transgender clients often face.

Supporting LGBTQ+ causes

In addition to volunteering your time and donating directly to AFC, you can support and keep up with AFC by listening to its founder’s podcast, “A Long Way Home.”

Banking through Daylight’s platform and supporting other queer-friendly businesses also helps you support the cause.

By learning from LGBTQ+ creators and making ethical choices to support businesses that are invested in organizations like AFC, you can make a difference for homeless LGBTQ+ youth. Some of AFC’s corporate sponsors include Colgate-Palmolive, Verizon, Gap, Inc. and Pepsi Co., so your daily purchases can help to maintain their support for LGBTQ+ organizations.

How to get assistance

To get support from AFC, New York LGBTQ+ youth ages 16 to 24 can call 212-206-0574 or go to the Harlem Drop-in Center at 321 W. 125th Street New York. New intakes are completed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The Drop-in Center in Harlem is the main hub for all the programs and services, and AFC outreach workers can often be seen on New York City streets reaching out to youth in need.

Following intake, you’ll be introduced to your own case manager, who can connect you to relevant programs and services to fit your needs, including AFC’s housing options:

AFC’s Emergency Housing Program has six emergency housing sites that provide 66 beds in apartments in Queens and Brooklyn and offer home-cooked dinners. Programs range from one to six months to prepare clients to move into the center’s Transitional Housing Program.

The Transitional Housing Program offers 58 transitional housing beds in shared apartments in Manhattan and Brooklyn, where LGBTQ+ youth can stay for years, as long as you’re working, in school, and/or learning the skills you need to reside independently in the future.

The Transgender Housing Program has 18 beds available for trans clients aged 16 to 20 for up to 18 months. Through a partnership with the Institute for Family Health, AFC also offers hormone replacement therapy to trans clients in its convenient on-site medical clinic.

In addition to providing much-needed referrals to housing programs for LGBTQ+ youth, AFC offers three meals daily, showers, clothing, hygiene supplies, free HIV tests, primary medical care, mental health services, support groups, and employment and education assistance.

Krystal Kavita Jagoo graduated from York University with a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Windsor. Jagoo is passionate about equity, as can be seen from her writing and arts programming work. Her articles have appeared in Huffington Post, Healthline and Prism.