LGBT and Homeless in NYC: What to do if LGBT and Homeless?
(New York, NY) Sitting opposite me in a subway car as the A train rolled through a tunnel in Brooklyn was a light skinned Black young man, seemingly between 17 or 19-year-old, dressed in New York’s black uniform: black sweater, black jacket, and black cargo pants, with black boots.
It was Thanksgiving night about 11:30 p.m., and the temperature outside was close to freezing. Feeling satisfied and thinking of sleep, I was returning home from celebrating the holiday with my family when I was roused from my near sleeping state by the sound of conversation cutting into the hypnotic clickity-clack humming of the subway’s wheels on the rails. The young man who was seated in a side facing seat had asked another young man in a forward facing seat, for a dollar. The young man looked over in my direction asking me if I spoke Spanish. Replying that I did, he asked me again what was it that the young man in black was asking, I enquired and translating from Spanish to English and English to Spanish, that the other young man didn’t have any money. At which point the young man in black proceeded to shared with me his night’s misfortune. He said he had recently moved to New York from Philadelphia to take a job which didn’t work out, and had been asked to leave the place where he was staying. With no family and no place to go, he was trying to understand and to stitch something together for himself, if only for that night.
Listening to the young man and remembering I had recently written two articles about homeless LGBT youth in NYC, I asked myself, where would someone who is young, LGBT, and who is suddenly rendered homeless, go for shelter? Who to call? I was stumped, so I suggested the young man in black call the city’s 311-service to see what help or direction he would receive. It dawned on me to ask the heads of non-profit agencies and others, what they would say should they encounter someone suddenly rendered homeless.
According to Charles Jones, LCSW-R, there is an organization in the Bronx that is the Bronx’s “answer” to the Center in Manhattan – The Bronx Community Pride Center. It is located on 149th Street, one block east of Third Avenue, where he could be referred for services. There is Safe Horizon’s Streetworks Program, currently housed at 165 West 131st Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10027. The Streetworks program works with homeless and marginally homeless youths up to 24-years old. However, while Streetworks is not LGBT-focused, they are aware of the issues facing the population.
Jones suggests that while Covenant House may be a first recommendation, it might be less likely a place to which he would refer someone who is new to New York. He stated that over the years, Covenant House has become somewhat notorious for breeding predators within their gates, streetwise kids who prey on NYC neophytes without mercy. While he admits that, things may have changed at Covenant House, he doubts it very seriously. Another organization he suggests is the Salvation Army, and says that for inasmuch as they offer programs and services for youths, mainly in the foster care system which, in turn means this kid may need to enter the ACS system to access care, he would not entrust anyone to their care. Their houses seem to be filled with the same types as Covenant House: drug dealers, nascent pimps, prostitutes, and other such characters.
“They all need help, but I am not confident the line staff of either of the two agencies are equipped to handle this fragile population, let alone that segment of LGBT youth with their additional dynamics,” says Jones.
Additionally, Jones raises questions into the young man’s background, family relationships back in Philadelphia which would be more applicable for an evaluation and acknowledges that he would not get “whole” answers initially, as the young man is likely to and has every reason to be suspect of anyone he meets, he may be “running game” himself.
Steve Welch, LCSW-R, with Harlem United, suggests the young man contact the Ali Forney Center (AFC) or the LGBT Community Center on West 13th Street. But Colleen Jackson, executive director of the West End Intergenerational Residence, recommends contacting the Department of Homeless Services (DHS) at their Website, http://www.nyc.gov/html/dhs/html/homeless/homeless_now.shtml, which has instructions and locations of drop-in and intake centers for homeless individuals.
“We are the only crisis facility equipped to handle this population of homeless LGBT Youth in NYC. We are the first and last stop for the youth. When they go to Ali Forney Center and find that they have a waiting list for a bed, AFC sends them to us. If they are on the street and ask another youth, they send them to us. If they show up here anytime of the night and have never been here before, even if we are overfull, we will give them a place to stay,” says Lucky Michaels, director, Metropolitan Community Church, New York (MCCNY) homeless shelter program, Sylvia’s Place.
Michaels said that of the available facilities, typically many of the city’s homeless LGBT youth begin at Sylvia’s Place or wait on the street until a bed becomes available at AFC or a cot opens up at Trinity, where if they get into those places, they usually either get discharged or kicked out and come to us next, or if they make it through AFC and can get a job or get into school and a bed opens at Green Chimneys, based in Brewster, NY with locations in the five boroughs, then they move on to a transitional living program. But most of these young people can’t do this and so they hope they can get on some sort of financial assistance and get an apartment, but usually many return to Sylvia’s Place more than once.
All of the organizations are doing great work, says Michaels, and doing the best they can to serve this population. On any given night there are 3,500 to 5,000 homeless youth on the streets of NYC, where 40 -50 percent identify as LGBT, and there are only 75 beds for LGBT youth including Sylvia’s Place, AFC, Green Chimneys, and Trinity; for all of the young people to share and which all the organizations in a juggling act to provide for as many as they can and to work with each other to better serve the youth.
Many of the agencies, Michaels says, have programs with psychological and medical components to them, providing care for many of the young people regardless of documentation or status, so undocumented immigrants and those who are HIV positive, are represented, receive care and case management. Case workers, he adds, at the agencies work to get the homeless young people appropriate health care and legal services, including documents to begin legalization, or just to get their identification, change identification if needed as with the transgender clients and work on name and gender changes with all the proper government agencies.
“We are doing the best we can to serve the high-risk, crisis population that otherwise would be waiting for space at the other facilities, but believe me we work together as soon as we can get one youth on to the next place,” says Michaels, admitting that Sylvia’s Place is not as nice as AFC or Green Chimneys.
Sylvia’s Place was featured in an Apr 17, 2008 NY Times article, which mentioned that it is open to people from ages 16 to 23 and has expanded to accommodate 26 clients at a time, up from six when it opened. The original emergency shelter now has several satellite programs: Sylvia’s East, an intermediate shelter in the East Village for up to six youths under 21 who are enrolled in school or working, and Sylvia’s Sugar Hill, a six-bed shelter at the Church of the Intercession, an Episcopalian parish on West 155th Street, that is intended to help “chronically homeless” youth become independent, and the Marsha P. Johnson Center, a drop-in crisis center for homeless youth, at 151 West 127th Street, between Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard in Harlem.
Resources for Homeless LGBT Youth:
Safe Horizon Street Works Program for Homeless youth:
- Streetwork Harlem Drop-In Center
165 W. 131st. St., 2nd Fl.
New York, NY 10027
Hours of Operation: Monday through Sunday (9:00 am – 9:00 pm)
Transportation services: Monday Through Sunday (1:00 pm – 9:00 pm)
Linkages are conducted each day
- Lower East Side Drop-In Center
33 Essex St
New York, NY 10002
Hours of Operation: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday (2:00PM-7:00PM)
Evening groups are also offered.
Intakes are conducted each day.
Syringe exchange available each day.
- Residential Programs
Streetwork has a Residential Program with a total of 24 beds for short-term emergency housing. Referrals to the Residential Programs can be made by calling the Streetwork Drop-In Centers.
Ali Forney Center (Manhattan/Brooklyn)
Contact: Eric Hartman (Program Director Day Center)
Green Chimneys (Runaway & Homeless Youth Programs) (Manhattan)
Contact: Miguel Caraballo
Sylvia’s Place (Manhattan)
Phone: 212- 629-7440 Ext. 226
446 West 36th Street
Contact: Kate Barnhardt
Sylvia’s Place has an emergency night shelter for self identified Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, trans-gendered, trans-sexual and questioning youth from 16 to 23 years of age. Its primary focus is to provide a safe space, a good meal, bathroom facilities and toiletries, a cot for the night and breakfast in the morning. Care Workers provide a listening ear, affirmation, and a friendly voice of encouragement. It is open 365 days/year from 8pm-8am. Curfew is at 12am, and provides hot meals (dinner and breakfast); clothing; showers; case management; physical and mental health medical services; and court advocacy. Sylvia’s Place accepts clients on a walk-in basis after 6pm daily as long as there is room. Call before coming to make sure there is space available (212) 629-7440 Ext. 226. No paperwork is necessary. Drop-in services at Sylvia’s Place are 6-10:30pm, Monday/Tuesday and Thursday/Friday.
The Door (Manhattan)
Phone: 212-941-9090 x3331; TDD/TYY: 1-800-662-1220
Contact: Miriam Hernandez
Department of Homeless Services (DHS):
In partnership with non-profit organizations, DHS sponsors nine Drop-In Centers located throughout the City. Drop-Ins provide hot meals, showers, laundry facilities, clothing, medical care, recreational space, employment referrals, and other social services. Staff can also help you find a safe and secure place to sleep. All Drop-Ins operate 24/7 – so please come by.
The DHS operates the most comprehensive shelter services system for single adults in the world – with programs to assist individuals in addressing and overcoming their homelessness to securing and sustaining permanent housing. To enter a shelter, you must first visit an intake center. As noted below, there is one intake center for men and three for women.
Dial 311 to contact any Drop-In Center, receive directions, or other information. Drop-In Centers are located at:
120 East 32nd Street
NY, NY 10017
(Subway: 6 to 33rd St.)
John Heuss House
42 Beaver Street
NY, NY 10004
(Subway: J/M/Z to Broad St.,
4/5 to Bowling Green, N/R to Whitehall St.)
Olivieri Center for Women
257 West 30th Street
NY, NY 10001
(Subway: A/C/E to 34th St.)
The Open Door
402 West 41st Street
NY, NY 10036
(Subway: 1/2/3/A/C/E to Port Authority)
123 West 23rd Street
NY, NY 10011
(Subway: 1 to 23rd St.)
The Living Room
890 Garrison Avenue
Bronx, NY 10011
(Subway: 6 to Hunt’s Point)
The Gathering Place
2402 Atlantic Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11233
(Subway: A to Broadway Junction)
Project Hospitality Drop-In Center
25 Central Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10036
(Subway: No subway service)
Dial 311 to receive directions and other information on the following intake centers:
30th Street Intake (Men)
400-430 East 30th Street (near 1st Avenue)
NY, NY 10016
(Subway: 6 to 28th St.)
Brooklyn Women’s Shelter (Women)
116 Williams Avenue,
Brooklyn, NY 11217
(Subway: C to Liberty Ave.)
Franklin Shelter (Women)
1122 Franklin Avenue
Bronx, NY 10456
(Subway: 2 to 149th St., then #55 bus to 166th St and 3rd Ave.)