State Senator Brad Hoylman kicks off the February 12 press conference. | GAY CITY NEWS
BY PAUL SCHINDLER | Stepping up the effort to press the Cuomo administration to provide more funding to shelter homeless youth, State Senator Brad Hoylman, an out gay Manhattan Democrat, appeared with fellow elected officials and advocates outside of City Hall on February 12 to make the case.
“It’s a cold day but we’re here to tell legislators we need more funding for homeless youth,” Hoylman said in opening the press conference.
Noting that the state will finish up its fiscal year on March 31 with an almost $6 billion surplus –– due in part to substantial settlements with Wall Street firms –– he pointed to a decline in Albany spending on runaway and homeless youth from $6.3 million in 2008 to $2.35 million in each of the budgets enacted under Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Hoylman and others are seeking an increase to $4.75 million, which the senator acknowledged would only “partially restore” the state’s level of spending prior to the economic crisis that began in late 2007. He used an easel-mounted poster to make the point that while spending fell by two-thirds in inflation-adjusted dollars, the number of youth turned away from shelters because of lack of beds exploded 10-fold –– from 571 such incidents in 2008 to 5,041 in 2012. The press event was full of signs bearing the hashtag #5000TooMany.
Hoylman's graphic presentation at City Hall. | GAY CITY NEWS
A 2007 census by the Empire State Coalition estimated that on any given night about 3,800 youth 24 and younger –– as many as 40 percent of them LGBT or questioning –– do not have a roof over their head in the city.
State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, an Upper West Side Democrat who is leading the charge in her chamber on increasing the funding, noted that New York City has only about 350 government-funded beds for homeless youth, and Jim Bolas, executive director of the Coalition for Homeless Youth, said statewide the figure is about 950.
Hoylman said that an estimated 25 percent of homeless youth end up engaging in sex work, while Public Advocate Letitia James argued, “Housing one of the most important preventers of HIV.”
Several speakers echoed Hoylman’s argument that the fiscal climate in the state is dramatically better than it was when the funding cuts were made four years ago. Rosenthal said she was “angry because we have money to build a bridge” –– the replacement for the Tappan Zee Bridge crossing the Hudson River from Westchester to Rockland County –– but not enough to address the needs of homeless youth.
ILLUSTRATION BY MICHAEL SHIREY
City Comptroller Scott Stringer, noting that his office just completed a quarterly economic report showing a strong local economy, argued it was time for “government, state and local,” to think about “how to spend its peace dividend.”
In the near term, Hoylman and Rosenthal are organizing colleagues in the Senate and the Assembly to press the governor to increase the appropriation for runaway and homeless youth when he files amendments on February 20 to the budget proposal he announced last month. After the press conference, Hoylman acknowledged that advocates need to be prepared to contest the funding question past that date, when negotiations over the governor’s amended budget begin in earnest between Cuomo and legislative leaders.
The state must adopt its budget by April 1.
Even as he put pressure on the governor to step up on homeless youth funding, Hoylman was careful to credit Cuomo for other youth-focused initiatives, including a job training program and recent proposals for juvenile justice reform.
Jim Bolas, executive director of the Coalition for Homeless Youth. | GAY CITY NEWS
Former City Councilmember Lew Fidler, who during his years as chair of the Youth Services Committee was a champion for homeless youth funding, was less charitable toward the governor. Noting that he now works for Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and has always been “a proud Democrat,” Fidler said, “I was not a proud Democrat” when the governor, early in his first term, boasted of preserving the state’s social safety net during a recession even as he “slashed” runaway and homeless youth funding.
The City Hall event came the same week that Mayor Bill de Blasio laid out his preliminary budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. In last year’s budget, the mayor made good on his campaign pledge to increase funding for emergency beds for youth so that the total stock would grow by 100. During the 2013 campaign, however, de Blasio and each of his Democratic primary rivals agreed to make incremental increases of 100 each year until waiting lists at youth facilities disappear. The preliminary city budget does not make room for that additional increase.
Bolas acknowledged that advocates will try to improve the city’s contribution as the budget process plays out at City Hall, but said that for now “the focus is on the state. They’ve fucked us for years.”