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A citywide group that houses homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths has opened a new shelter at the former site of an LGBT center at an Astoria church after a Long Island diocese gave the house of worship a $200,000 face-lift.
The Ali Forney Center, which operates six shelters in Brooklyn and has a drop-in center at 527 W. 22nd St. in Manhattan, began operating a new LGBT youth shelter with 16 beds at St. Andrew’s Church on 31st Avenue in Astoria in early November, said Carl Siciliano, founder and executive director of the city group.
“An awful lot of these kids were told by their families that they couldn’t accept having a gay kid, so they had to get out,” Siciliano said. “Some of them felt harassed or unwanted. A disturbing number of them have experienced domestic violence. We provide support services to help them get jobs or get back into school.”
Siciliano said the center currently has a waiting list of 150 youths, ages 18 to 24. Ali Forney is also looking for additional sites to open shelters in the borough.
The Rev. Louis Braxton formerly operated LGBT youth shelter Carmen’s Place at the church until the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island shuttered the building in 2007. Braxton now operates his center out of an apartment in Astoria.
But the diocese put $200,000 into renovating the former church site, allowing Ali Forney to operate its shelter in the space. Youths can stay up to six months at the new site.
Refurbishments to the building include a new coat of paint as well as upgraded wiring, bathrooms, showers, toilets, refrigerators, freezers, a dishwasher, sanded floors, plumbing and repaired windows.
The Astoria shelter is currently filled to capacity. An estimated 25 percent of visitors to the center are from Queens, Siciliano said.
Danny Dromm, the councilman-elect for Jackson Heights’ District 25 and an active leader in the borough’s gay community, said he would attempt to secure additional funding for sites like Astoria’s Ali Forney Center.
“This is a totally underserved group,” he said. “It’s estimated there are 7,500 homeless youths in New York City and between 30 to 40 percent of them are LGBT. In the whole city, there are probably a total 200 beds dedicated to this population. Many of these kids have been thrown out of their homes because they are gay, so they need to be in an environment that is friendly.”
Dromm said many of the youths perform sex work on the streets, which puts them at risk for contracting AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.
Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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