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LGBT and Homeless in NYC

LGBT and homeless in NYC

Stories of three homeless LGBT youth

By Antoine Craigwell

(New York, NY) Dominic, Dilo, and Marcus are three young men with stories, who like many people gravitate to New York City, as moths to a flame, in search of their dream, fame and fortune, or a new life. What then does a young Black gay man do, where does he go and to whom does he turn, when he finds himself homeless in a big city?

When 26-year-old Dominic, called “Bama,” not a familiar for Obama, but because he’s originally from the gulf coast city of Mobile, AL, arrived in New York City in July, he stayed for two weeks at a friend’s apartment. As that living arrangement wasn’t permanent, he was forced to leave. Being Black, gay and HIV positive, Dominic spent the next several months on the streets, sleeping where ever he could find a warm dry place. Today he is staying at a transitional homeless shelter in the Bronx waiting for placement in a more stable environment.

Dilo Cintron, also 26, is originally from St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. He came to the city in 2000 and has been going to Sylvia’s Place, a homeless shelter for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth run by the Metropolitan Community Church of New York (MCCNY), since 2003. According to Cintron his relationship with the shelter began when he was released from jail after being incarcerated for three years for weapons possession, withholding information and harboring a fugitive, who at the time was his partner.

For 23-year-old Marcus Greene, who arrived in New York in December 2006 from Charlotte, NC, ostensibly to find love, the experience of being homeless was an eye-opener.

“I wanted a relationship that was different to those I had in Charlotte, but I quickly discovered that the men here and there [back home] were one and the same,” he says.

Greene’s story is similar to many who come to the city, their arrival at Port Authority, and initial temporary living arrangements; staying with a friend, her husband and children for two weeks. But, unlike the others, he chose, rather than was asked, to leave his friend’s apartment because he wanted to adhere to his promise to stay with her for a specific time, not overstay his welcome, and was concerned about continuing to impinge on their family life.

In 2005, Dominic had come to NYC to escape living along the Gulf Coast. He met and fell in love with another young man, they moved in, shared an apartment, and then he and his lover decided to move back down to the south. After being together for 18 months, Dominic and his lover broke up and feeling he couldn’t bear living with his ex-lover who was physically, mentally and sexually abusing him, and the treatment he received from his family who knew about him being gay, Dominic bought a plane ticket and returned to New York, because, as he says, this state is one of the few states nationwide with services for homeless LGBT youth.

But, that claim is about to be nullified as New York’s Governor David Patterson in his executive budget has detailed reductions in funds to several social programs for 2008-2009. In trying to find ways to close the state’s burgeoning budget gap, the Governor is proposing cutting $28 million from the Youth Program Block Grant, which provides funds to organizations dedicated to helping runaway youth and was due to be effective Jan 1, 2009.

A January 2007 report by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National Runaway Switchboard, revealed that some 42 percent of homeless youth identified as LGBT, compared to 5 percent of the overall population identifying as such, or close to 8,400 of the 15,000 to 20,000; are homeless in NYC. The report also revealed that 50 percent of gay male teens, between 13 and 24 years old, who came out to their parents, experienced such a negative reaction, that about 26 percent were sometimes forcibly separated from their homes, families and support structures because of either physical and sexual abuse or harassment and persecution for being gay, and end up calling the streets their home.

In an email message with a letter embedded in it, that was sent to the many organizations around the city which provide services, including shelter, for the city’s homeless LGBT youth, Jim Bolas, director of education, Empire State Coalition of Youth and Family Services, asked recipients to send the letter to the Governor, petitioning him to reconsider his repeal of the 2008-2009 appropriation for runaway and homeless youth services and the placement of those services within the Youth Program Block grant, which would result in funding cuts for homeless youth shelters, and which “could leave thousands of our State’s most vulnerable youth without shelter, food, or critical services while the debate over the budget and Article VII Bills wages in Albany.”

According to Bolas’ statement, pre-negotiated contracts that were to begin on January 1, 2009 and funded with current year appropriations are being rescinded to be replaced with funding through the block grants. Concerned about the future of a grant application for $300,000 that was recently submitted, William Moran, newly appointed executive director of Sylvia’s Place, said that with the Governor’s announcement, the organization is unsure if the application would be approved.

For Cintron, at 18, the excitement and lure of a big city had beckoned. He declared that he was tired of living on the island. Admitting that he was part of the Department of Housing Services, which is a catch-all government agency on the island handling various social needs, he lived in many different group homes and after a while, he managed to obtain enough money to buy a plane ticket to Florida, hopped on a bus to Virginia, and another to New York, arriving at the Port Authority.

“When I got to New York I freaked out. I had no one to call, no where to go. I hanged out at the Port Authority for a while until another homeless person told me to go to Covenant House,” says Cintron.

Recounting his experience at Covenant House, the non-profit homeless shelter operated by the Catholic Church and which has been the subject of a number of unfavorable stories and scandals, Cintron says that as it was the first shelter he had ever been to, to him it was “ghetto and ‘bougie.’” Life at Covenant House, he says, is miserable and if a person cannot stand their ground, they would become easy targets for bullying, would be pushed over, written up for no reason, and would realize that the staff are in cahoots with the clients. Cintron made it through the transitional living program, a sort of rite of passage, until he met his partner, when they moved into and shared an apartment, and which is when he says he began to get into trouble with the law and shortly after, was jailed. After being released, he went to the home of a friend, but that arrangement didn’t work out and so he ended up on the streets again. Being familiar with living on the streets, he was able to connect with more people and to find places to stay.

But when his human resources dissipated, he began sleeping on the streets, over air vents, on church steps, in Penn Station, and even in Central Park’s Rambles section, notorious for illicit sexual activity, where he also cruised for sex; and on the subways, where he says, sleeping in a sitting position or fetal like on the seats, caused severe pain in his knees and backside from either being bent or seated too long.

He also spent time at the city run Bellevue Men’s Shelter, which was a little more different and where the clients are much older, many of whom may recently have been released from jail. The staff at the Men’s Shelter, says Cintron, don’t really care about the clients, as they are called in the shelter system, and see their roles as only to provide a bed. He also spent time at Green Chimneys Homeless Shelter, which in comparison to his shelter experiences was his best. At Green Chimneys, Cintron says, the clients have their own rooms, there are programs, and they are encouraged to help in the office; every night was like a sleep-over among friends. But, he says he wanted to return to Sylvia’s Place because he felt more comfortable and knew more people. While on the streets, Cintron says he would often go to Mid Night Runs, an organization that supplies clothing and food to the homeless at location around the city such as Penn Station, and 77th Street and Central Park West.

But, being homeless in the winter is the hardest, says Cintron, because a lot of people don’t like going to the shelters which are miserable, ghetto like and worse; the staff would turn their faces when something happens, as opposed to the attention from staff at the private or non-profit run shelters.

Agreeing with Dominic, that it’s not hard to be homeless in NYC, Cintron says, “I’ve met people from other states who come to NYC to be homeless. Most people from out of state go to the Lower East Side StreetWorks shelter.”

While staying in New Jersey, Greene had applied for welfare benefits, but when he left his friend’s apartment, with no place to go, he slept for three nights on the streets. Greene says he cannot clearly recall the exact dates when he slept on the streets, but remembers that he also spent three nights at the Grand Central Neighborhood Social Services Corporation, a part of the city-run shelter system. Then he was referred to the Ali Forney Center (AFC) where he received approval for transitional housing, but because he was on a waiting list, he resided at MCCNY for four months until a bed opened up at AFC. While at AFC, he says, he worked at a branch of the GAP retail clothing store chain, but was terminated after a customer made a false complaint against him.

When he was sleeping on the streets, Greene says, without any means to obtain money and to survive, to buy food he posted ads on Craigslist.com, Rentboy.com, and RentMen.com. There he met men who did things like snorting cocaine off his erect penis, using crack cocaine or cat tranquilizers, engaged in anal sex, and admits that even though he is receptive, a bottom, to make money, he has had to assume a “top” role. He says that three years ago he met a guy and had sex with him, but discovered some days later that the man had posted information about Greene on a Website. Since then he has sworn off being penetrated and has been anally celibate for three years.

“As for my dream of finding love; that has gone down the drain. When I was growing up, I was told about drugs and alcohol, but no one told me how it would damage my life,” he says.

According to Cintron, while it is a difficult to tell when someone, younger than 24 is homeless. It is important, he says, to maintain appearances, which many do by “boosting” or shoplifting from clothing stores or borrowing clothes from friends and there is always a soup kitchen somewhere to find for food, and many places have showers, or public bathrooms to wash.

Greene says that even though he could go back down South, he would only go to visit or to a large city where he could blend in. Reminiscing about what his life has been so far, since last June he has tried to turn his life around.

“I want to have at least a ghetto fabulous life rather than be homeless. There are things I wish I could change, but the only thing I can do is move forward with what is right and not what’s suitable for the time being, and honestly, it feels weird sitting down taking about being homeless on Christmas Eve,” he says.

While being away from his family for the holidays makes him feel miserable, Greene is continuing to live day to day, attending Brooklyn Job Corps where he is pursuing obtaining his GED and culinary training, with a plan to open his own restaurant and bar.

As of writing, Dominic is part of a transitional living program and over the New Year’s weekend moved into his own apartment, where he is settling in and adjusting to having someplace to call his home.

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January 3, 2009 - Posted by | LGBT community

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