Behind The Lights, an online multimedia project from Baruch College journalism students, is a riveting first-hand snapshot at the oft-overlooked segments of New York City. Particularly homeless LGBT youth, like Zariah. This isn’t a story about misfit kids. It’s about queer youth who have nothing to call home, because they were expelled from their parents’ house, or ran away from abuse or neglect. And as if living on the streets weren’t soul crushing enough, young LGBTs face particularly trying circumstances.
According to Jeffery Ream, a New Alternatives board member, the traditional way of thinking about the LGBTQ homeless community was that those members could simply utilize general homeless services such as soup kitchens and shelters. However, many of these sites have proven to be dangerous for sexual minority youth, who encounter homophobia and violence from staff members and heterosexual homeless youth and adults.
“When they try to access traditional homeless services they encounter homophobia by both the staff and the other homeless people,” said Ream. “They risk getting beaten, harassed, and much worse; this is why they need LGBTQ specific homeless shelters and developmental services.”
Organizations such as New Alternatives help to fill this problematic area. At the very least they provide a weekly meal. At most, they provide peer-to-peer and one-on-one volunteer counseling, workshops for personal development, and most of all a compassionate and caring staff solely devoted to helping their homeless members. However, due to city budget cuts that specifically impact LGBTQ-specific programs as well as a lack of volunteers, New Alternatives and other such organizations are finding it hard to stay afloat and expand their services to reach more LGBTQ homeless youth.