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ECPAT-USA Joins NYC Rally for Runaway and Homeless Youth
“Restore! Baseline! Increase!” This was the rallying cry that rang out from the steps of City Hall on June 19, when advocates and representatives from across the city gathered to stand against budget cuts that could drastically harm the futures of the thousands of runaway and homeless youth in New York City.
On any given night in New York City, there are an estimated 3800 minors who do not have a safe place to sleep. Currently the city has granted enough funding to youth shelters to supply only 250 beds—that’s 250 to provide for the entire city’s runaway and homeless youth population across all five boroughs. In recent years, however, the changing fiscal budget has threatened the permanence of these funds, with a gradual decline of services provided by the city. This year, despite the city’s economic recovery since the recession, funds for youth homeless shelters continue to be susceptible to cuts.
In a powerful speech, Council Member Lewis Fidler said, “One of the most shameful problems of our city [is] the fact that on any given night, 3800 young people will be sleeping on the streets without shelter… and this city cannot find it in their hearts and their multi- multi- multi-billion dollar budget to find the money to provide a bed for them.”
This issue is especially ominous with consideration to the overwhelming prevalence of trafficking among runaway and homeless youth. According to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, within 48 hours of fleeing their homes, one-third of runaway youth are at risk of being kidnapped and forced into sex slavery. “The shelters are full,” said Jayne Bigelsen, Director of External Affairs and Anti-Human Trafficking Initiatives at Covenant House, “and what happens is that it puts kids in a position of they either have to sleep in the street or there will be a pimp or someone else dangerous waiting to step in and offer them a place to stay. So if you want to combat trafficking, one of the ways to do it is by making sure all homeless kids have the services they need.”
Perhaps the most moving speeches of the event were not from the representatives or Council Members in attendance, but the runaway and homeless youth who were given a chance to speak out at the podium. Several young men and women stood up and told their own stories to a captivated audience. It was especially touching than when a young mother who lives in a maternity shelter stood in front of the crowd with her infant son and proclaimed, “All of you here today can help me help my son.”
Several of the young men and women who spoke identify as LGBTQ, giving them an important perspective on this issue. As many as 40% of runaway and homeless youth in NYC are LGBTQ; too often these youth are rejected from their homes because of their sexuality. One young man said, “[Being at the shelter] helps me with my confidence, because I can go there and I can be comfortable. I can express myself the way I want to without feeling like I have to hide, without worrying about anybody threatening me or making smart remarks because of who I am or because of my sexuality.”
The fact of the matter is that providing shelter and services to runaway and homeless youth also gives them hope for a future, especially for those in situations that may seem hopeless. As long as there are still children and teenagers left without a home, ECPAT-USA will continue to strive for a city where no kids are left without a safe place to stay.
Written by: Melissa Blackerby, ECPAT-USA Social Media Intern