Note: This is a repost of a diary I foolishly posted on Saturday, before I realized something much bigger was going on. The Bloomberg administration had been threatening drastic cuts to City's Homeless Services budget. The $970,000 represented a minuscule savings in a $60B budget but would have devastated a community. Grassroots fought back, repeatedly. And on Friday, they won. It's happy news, and a good teaching moment to us all, as we face "austerity measures" for the poor in the coming years. We don't have to roll over when "serious people" tell us to tighten our belts and pitch in.
Fantastic news out of New York City Friday. From New York City's Gay City News:
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Finance Committee Chair Domenic Recchia on January 6 announced successful completion of negotiations with the Bloomberg administration related to objections the Council had to certain mid-fiscal year budget cuts the mayor had ordered.
Their statement emphasized that the agreement results in the same dollar amount of budget adjustments originally proposed but would fully restore cuts planned for drop-in and street outreach services for LGBTQ youth as well as for rapid HIV testing efforts the Council had funded in the current budget that began July 1, 2010.
When the proposed cuts were first announced shortly after Thanksgiving, advocates for homeless queer youth said they would amount to roughly $970,000 in the current fiscal year and another $700,000 next year, a miniscule amount in a budget of more than $60 billion.
The threatened cuts were not specifically LGBT earmarked, but with as many as 40% of homeless youth identifying as LGBTQ, they would have had a serious disproportionate impact on the agencies that address that population, specifically. Much of this population has specific needs and they may have not felt comfortable at shelters affiliated with religious charities, often depended up to pick of slack when secular funds are cut. The cuts could well have been devastating.
This turn of events comes after tremendous grassroots pressure was placed on the Bloomberg administration, and the city to reverse course on the cuts. In June I wrote about a very well-attended rally organized by Ali Forney Center, which provides shelter and services for homeless LGBT youth, and supported by dozens and dozens of gay and homeless and other organizations. City City members, advocates, and Lt Dan Choi and actress Sandra Bernhard spoke of the danger these cuts would present to a very vulnerable and already underserved population.
But, things continued to look bad. In an editorial last month, City Council assistant majority leader Lew Fidler (pictured speaking at the rally) lamented the situation in an editorial, Alone & Sleeping on the Street: Happy Holidays, saying:
"Yet this Thanksgiving, in one of the cruelest actions imaginable, the Bloomberg administration cut funding for our youth shelter bed programs by $1.5 million. Ho ho ho and happy holidays."
But this past week, there was another development. Mayor Michael Bloomberg sent a message to gay youth as part of the Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" video campaign.
Among his words:
"Right now there may be some of you out there who feel that there's no hope, or that you're not wanted. Well I have a message for you. New York City wants you. New York has always been the place where anyone can go, and be who they're supposed to be, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual identity. We need you."
Great sentiment. But it begs the question, what are you doing to make it better? You're not a passive observer, Mayor Mike, empowered only comment and lament on the state of affairs for gay youth. You're a man with a lot of power and influence. And right now, you're using it to cut what amounts to couch change in the city budget and devastate a safety net to the very kids whose big city dreams you're encouraging. Are you aware of what happens to many of them when they get off the bus at Port Authority? As many as 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. This isn't a coincidence. This is a direct consequence of kids coming from hostile environments and seeking a better life, they are not yet prepared to support.
Carl Siciliano, Executive Director of the Ali Forney Center, was not amused. He released a statement calling attention to the hypocrisy that Bloomberg was not, in fact, making it better, he was making it worse.
"Two days after slashing support to homeless youth programs in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg has the gall to release a video telling LGBT youth that 'It Gets Better.' Mayor Bloomberg, your cruel and reckless cuts to the meager support system for homeless LGBT youth in New York City just made things for them much worse! On January 1st, Bloomberg cut support for outreach to homeless youth in half, cut most drop-in centers for homeless youth by a third, and cut support for the two LGBT homeless youth drop-in programs in half. In New York City there are over 1,000 LGBT youth suffering on the streets every night without access to safe shelter. The drop-in centers and outreach are their only support. Homeless LGBT youth are at incredible risk of suicide with 62% reporting that they have considered or attempted suicide.
The LGBT community needs to recognize these cuts as an attack against our most vulnerable youth, and against us as a whole. We pay just as much taxes as anyone, and there are far too few City-funded programs that support our most vulnerable youth. If we can be treated like this in a city with as strong an community as NYC, how will our youth ever get their fair share of the resources they need and deserve? I cannot speak strongly enough about what a horror it is to have LGBT youth who have been discarded by homophobic parents flock to us for help, and to have to counsel them to sleep in the subways because there are not nearly enough beds for them."
Is it possible even billionaires can be shamed?
Siciliano is singing a different tune today, quoted in the Gay City News:
Siciliano, in addition to thanking Quinn and Fidler, applauded the mobilization by community activists and organizations to press City Hall on the issue.
"I do not think that the mayor, in proposing the cuts, anticipated the depth of the commitment of the LGBT community to protecting our youth who have been thrown out to the streets, and I am deeply moved by the caring that our community revealed in fighting the cuts."
I have mixed feelings on both Quinn and Bloomberg. But it isn't necessary to place a black hat or a white hat on anyone's head. A case was made by both sides and a happy resolution was reached. This is how it works, when it works. And it isn't always easy or pretty.
Regardless of the motives of everyone involved, this announcement is great cause for celebration. It is to everyone's credit they worked together and arrived at a good solution. Yesterday, the powers in charge used their power, if not to make it better, at least stop it from getting worse.
How you can make it better:
There is much progress that needs to be made on this issue. Information on volunteer, monetary and in-kind donation opportunities in New York City:
• Ali Forney lists shelters nationwide here.