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Voices of Our Youth: Shelter of Peace


On Valentines Day, February 14th, a group of homeless youth, service providers, and advocates from New York City and around the state converged on Albany to meet with state legislators.  The trip, organized by The New York City Association of Homeless and Street-Involved Youth Organizations and Empire State Coalition of Youth and Family Services (ESC), was in response to a 50% cut in the 2011 state budget for Runaway and Homeless Youth (RHY) services, funding which has not been restored in the proposed 2012 budget.  This represents the fourth funding cut in as many years, as yet with no relief.

For many of the youth, this was their first opportunity to speak directly with legislators and their staff and to see how Albany works.  Joey Lopez, Outreach Specialist at The Ali Forney Center, stated it beautifully:  “The day was amazing. For the young people - many on the street the night before - to be on a bus at 7am to go to Albany for a chance to share their stories with elected officials speaks to the resiliency of the youth.”  And this was the first opportunity for many of the legislators to hear directly from homeless youth, one of the state’s most vulnerable populations.  As Margo Hirsch, Executive Director of ESC said, “It is so critical for all our elected officials to hear directly from young people how the decisions made in Albany affect their lives every day.”

One of the groups came by bus from the Ali Forney Center in New York City.  On this bus was a contingent from Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), including Alana Krivo-Kaufman, Social Justice Coordinator at CBST, RoseAnn Hermann, Chair of the Koleinu LGBT Rights Social Justice Action Team, George Hermann, from Shelter of Peace, and Bruce Pachter, Jeff Radford, and Kevin Donohue from Koleinu, as well as Shelter of Peace clergy Father Sunderland from St. Barts. During the return trip from Albany, Alana, RoseAnn, George and Bruce had the opportunity to speak with some of the other participants about their experiences.  “The young people were fantastic advocates!” said Nancy Downing, Director of Advocacy at Covenant House in New York City.  “They spoke simply and eloquently.  We are hopeful that the voices of our young people - our future - will be heard.”  Following are quotes from some of the youth:

“At first I was nervous and a little scared, but I'm proud I came because I know my voice and concerns will make a difference.  I was also surprised to see so many youth stand together for our needs.  We need the funding the state gives us and if they continue to cut, they're cutting our recourses and the help we really need.” -Adriana S., 21 years old

“The legislators are directly responsible for the children that are sleeping on the streets and trains, for the young men and women that are bartering their bodies for a warm place to stay, for the hungry young adults who live without love and or stability. Budget cuts to RHY programs are not a partisan issue or a money issue. They are an issue of basic human rights and compassion.” -Avathar St. Vincent, 19 years old

“It was very nice to finally take our legitimate concerns, and issues to those who have the power and resources to make a significant difference. I am hopeful that these issues will be addressed with earnestness and grace.” -Jobe

“I am thankful for the opportunity to be able to express our concerns. It is when we come together as a people and stand firmly for one cause that our voice can be heard.” -De-Sean

“I'm proud to be able to come and speak to legislators.  If it wasn't for RHY funds, I wouldn't have food, shelter or the emotional support that I need while in college.  My life literally depends on them.” -Ihaila, 20 years old

“I stand hopeful that our voices are heard and that these challenges we face are met with success.  All we can do now is believe.” -Kevin

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