Overcrowded

As New York becomes COVID-19 epicenter, LGBTQ youth shelters buckle under strain

Sylvia Rivera with fellow activist Marsha P. Johnson

With new cases of coronavirus popping up in scores around New York City, the metropolis’ LGBTQ youth shelters and services centers struggle to keep up.

New York features a number of shelters and youth centers aimed at offering assistance to homeless queer youth. One of those shelters, Sylvia’s Place (named for activist Sylvia Rivera), has already reported filling to capacity.

“There is a total breakdown of leadership in the city and state in terms of either making sure youth programs had a plan for dealing with this situation and making sure people have necessary supplies,” said Kate Barnhart, director of Sylvia’s Place, in an interview with GayCityNews. “It’s an ongoing problem.”

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A full house also means tenets of shelters like Sylvia’s Place come into close contact with one another. In the age of COVID-19, that poses a major risk for the spread of the virus both to residents and employees. Fortunately, nobody at Sylvia’s Place has reported any cases of the virus yet.

Barnhart also noted that with their halls overcrowded with coronavirus patients, hospitals have begun discharging homeless COVID-19 patients back to their shelters of origin. That poses an even greater risk for the spread of infection. Furthermore, other LGBTQ youth shelters like Marsha’s House require patrons to first seek lodging with city shelters, also opening up another window for infecting others.

“There is no way to isolate people [at shelters] if someone should become sick,” Barnhart observed. “We’re really in a crunch.”

At the time of this writing, the state of New York has reported 30,000 confirmed coronavirus patients. That number is considered by medical experts to be inaccurate due to a lack of available testing. Actual numbers are projected to be much higher.