Activists, elected officials protest proposed cuts to homeless youth programs
Juan Valdez literally remains out in the cold.
The 21-year-old from Orlando, Florida, has been homeless since he arrived in New York City eight months ago. Valdez’s parents kicked him out of their home. And he told EDGE he now sleeps with what he described as "a whole bunch of ex-convicts" looking for sex.
"I’ve been homeless the whole time I’ve been here," said Valdez.
Valdez literally shivered alongside more than a hundred activists and elected officials on the steps of City Hall in lower Manhattan on Tuesday, Dec. 21, to protest Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed cuts to homeless youth programs. As EDGE reported earlier this month, the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development plans to slash funding for drop-in shelters and street outreach by 50 percent.
"The city knows, the Bloomberg administration knows that every night 3,800 young people are sleeping homeless on our streets-they know this because they released it in their own report," said Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center, referring to the report the mayor’s Commission for LGBTQ Runaway and Homeless Youth released in June that recommended more outreach and other services. "The city knows, the Bloomberg administration knows that hundreds of kids have to survive by prostituting every night-they know because they released it in their own report in June."
City Councilmember Lew Fidler [D-Brooklyn] once again blasted Bloomberg for the proposed cuts.
"I don’t possibly understand how that can be an acceptable choice," stressed Fidler. "It’s disgusting and frankly it’s beyond contempt."
City Councilmember Letitia James [D-Brooklyn] used the growing scandal over four consultants who allegedly embezzled $80 million from a company the city contracted to automate its’ payroll system to mock Bloomberg.
"If you uncover $80 million, $2 million should go to you-to you," she said, gesturing to the young people who were standing behind her on the steps of City Hall. "No one should be sleeping on the streets of New York."
The temperature was in the mid-30s during the protest, but the wind chill was at least 10 degrees colder.
The holiday season provided Nathaniel Vanderhorst the perfect backdrop on which to criticize the proposed cuts. He categorized Bloomberg as a Scrooge.
"I want to support my people and stand for what’s right," said Vanderhorst.
As for Valdez, he said a shelter referred him to the Ali Forney Center on Monday, Dec. 20. "From the second I walked in, I felt I was among family," he said. "I feel welcome. I feel safe. I honestly believe they do have my best interests at heart."
Valdez added he remains confused as to why the Bloomberg administration would want to cut funding for the programs that help him and other homeless youth.
"I don’t understand how he [the mayor] thought it was even acceptable," said Valdez. "I hope it was some mistake."