On the Road to Justice
On Tuesday, February 14, Shelter of Peace advocates woke at the crack of dawn and got on the bus to Albany, joining our voices with those of currently and formerly homeless young people, clergy, and youth service providers from around the state. Our contingent met with aides from Senators Tom Duane and Diane Savino’s offices, as well as a representative from Assembly Member Amy Paulin’s office. Both Savino and Paulin serve as chairperson of the Children and Families Committee for their respective legislative bodies.
The shining stars of the day were our kids, who made heartfelt appeals for restored state funding to the programs that have literally saved them from the streets. Young person Ryan stunned the group crowding into Assembly Member Paulin’s conference room, by recounting his daily choice between survival sex or sleeping on the street. Ryan was kicked out of his family home for coming out as transgender.
Other young people described the consequences of the lack of shelter beds, which often leaves them with no choice but to engage in illegal activity. Over-enforcement of New York City ordinances against loitering, vagrancy, and sleeping on the subway have criminalized our young people who are turned away from having a coveted shelter bed for the night. The long term result of further reducing services to this population will be that they are placed in a mental health hospital, or end up in a correctional facility.
Service providers stated that they can no longer sustain the current services with existing funding levels, which are already horribly deficient for serving the growing numbers of homeless and runaway youth. Advocates were present from Green Chimneys, The Door, and Ali Forney Center among others.
The Shelter of Peace coalition welcomed Reverend Edward Sunderland from St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church to the day’s activities.
Rev. Sunderland, a long time activist, is no stranger to the issues facing this population. St. Bart’s provides services to the homeless community in the form of an adult respite shelter, soup kitchen, and food pantry. All are entirely volunteer-run by congregants.
One advocate spoke about ways that his program impacts the lives of the young people he serves. He spoke about the fact that every young person he interviews expresses the desire to give back to the community that gave them a helping hand. He gave examples of graduates from his program who have gone on to finish college degrees, and how the entire community benefits from the success of every young person rescued from the despair of homelessness. He described our youth as profoundly influential and deserving of our full support.
Koleinu member Bruce Pachter commented on the inspiring courage of the youth that day, “I have never been so deeply moved as I was by such articulate young people. As they spoke of their plight as kids who – on good nights – live in shelters, I could not help but hear the voices of leaders, and wonder who among them might serve as the future of our government”.
Our meeting at Senator Savino’s office was equally compelling. We heard testimony from a young person who escaped an abusive household and might never have known the support of a caring responsible adult or safe shelter, if services were not available to her. A resident at the Green Chimneys transitional living program in the Bronx spoke about how he had “managed to find a legitimate job, put four figures into savings, re-apply for school and even file his taxes for the first time. Without having an address, you can’t do any of those things.”