LGBTQ youth center relocates to Harlem
CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 5/30/2013, 1:03 p.m.
The famed Ali Forney Center (AFC) now calls Harlem home. The center, which serves homeless LGBTQ youth, moved to its current location on 125th Street near St. Nicolas Avenue in December after its Chelsea drop-in center was ruined by Hurricane Sandy.
The center is named after the late Ali Forney, a Black gay and transgender youth who was murdered in 1997 in Harlem at age 22. His murder remains unsolved. Forney was an advocate for homeless gay youth, having been homeless himself at one time. His murder was one of several that remained unsolved among transgender people in Harlem.
The nonprofit AFC was started in 2002 by Carl Siciliano in the basement of a church. The center previously operated branches in Chelsea and Brooklyn. The Brooklyn location was closed to free up funds to build the current location on 125th Street.
LGBTQ youth come to the center for food, counseling, employment and housing assistance during the day. The center is also widely known for its health services, especially HIV/AIDS and STI services.
The director of drop-in programs, Jack Bethke, said that many of the young people who come in are living on the street after being thrown out of their homes due to their sexuality. A majority of youth who come to AFC are Black and Latino.
"Intolerance and bigotry are terrible things," he said. "As there has been more mainstream acceptance of homosexuality, there are still pockets in our community where it is not accepted. When they end up on the street, young people are at risk for HIV and other STDs and are easy prey for sexual predators."
AFC helps LGBTQ youth age 16 to 24. Upon arrival to the center, they are interviewed to assess their needs. AFC operates housing units across the five boroughs for nearly 90 people, for which there is a waitlist. Clients can stay in the housing until age 25.
"Many of the people who come to the center are trying to get the lives that were stolen from them back," Bethke said. "Some people who come here are sex workers, and they are participating in 'survival sex' and some are doing 'survival stealing' just to have money. They can come here and we can help."
Getting major support from the Department of Health, federal government and the city, AFC also relies on private donations. Major donors include the Calais Foundation and the MacFarlane Foundation. Time Warner is currently building a computer lab for those in need of GED and employment help.
In the near future, Bethke said that the center will operate 24 hours. For more information, visit www.aliforneycenter.org.