Carl Siciliano is being honored as a Champion of Change for his work to combat homelessness among children and youth.
When the Ali Forney Center first opened its doors ten years ago, there was simply no safe shelter for homeless LGBT kids in New York City. With nowhere safe to turn, many kids slept in parks and in the subways. Many turned to survival sex – trading sex for shelter. These young people struggled to survive in dangerous, squalid, humiliating situations.
Ali Forney was a gay youth who was rejected by his family and forced to live on the streets of New York City at the age of 13. I was the director of a drop in center for homeless youth and met Ali when he was 17. In December of 1997, Ali was murdered on the streets. He was 22 years old.
My central inspiration for doing the work we do has been enduring the tragic deaths of Ali and six other homeless LGBT youths during a time when NYC had no safe shelter for LGBT youth; I never want to see that happen again. When the Ali Forney Center opened its doors in June of 2002, I had no idea if we would survive. We had just one donor and a church offering us free use of their basement, where we provided six cots. Since we opened our doors there have been no murders of homeless LGBT youth on the streets of NYC. Ali’s murder was never brought to justice, but his spirit lives on in our work and in each of the lives we transform.
Ten years later I am filled with gratitude for the response we have received from the LGBT community, and many of our allies. This response has allowed the Ali Forney Center to become a remarkable success; we have become the largest and most comprehensive organization dedicated to homeless LGBT youth in the country. We now offer emergency shelter and longer term housing with a combined total of 77 beds in eight different residential facilities. We also offer two drop-in centers where we provide food, clothing, showers, free medical and mental health care, and educational and vocational assistance, helping thousands of kids who have flocked to us for help from all over the country and the world. And, after these ten years, I am full of pride for the success of so many of our kids. I rejoice in seeing how with the proper nurturing and support they are able to find the strength to overcome the most terrible mistreatment. Seeing many go to college, get jobs, and move out on their own is nothing short of a triumph over the most toxic effects of rejection.
This prestigious award is one symbol of how far we have come in addressing this issue. I am truly grateful to receive this honor and to give a voice to the hundreds of thousands of homeless young people who are abandoned by their families and forced to do what they can to survive the streets.
Carl Siciliano is Founder of the Ali Forney Center