Ask, Don't Tell

Giuliani's suppressed report on homeless youth

The city has increased funds for homeless families in the past few years. However, money for runaway and homeless youth programs has been stagnant, or in some cases has decreased. This fiscal year, for example, the city cut $308,356 earmarked for "runaway crisis beds," says Paul Lopatto, spokesperson for the Independent Budget Office.

Likewise, since 1995 Giuliani has attempted to cut all funding for preventative programs directly targeted at homeless teens, such as the Juvenile Prostitution Diversion Program. "Every year Giuliani cuts these preventative outreach programs in his budget proposals," says councilmember Stephen DiBrienza, "and it's up to the council to restore them." DiBrienza says it's been impossible to get more money "when you have to fight just to keep the current money. But you don't see him cutting funding for midtown development."

Many advocates for the homeless say that Giuliani's other policies have also directly affected homeless youth. The mayor's "quality of life" crime sweeps through the 42nd Street area in 1996 displaced thousands of homeless kids and teen prostitutes from Times Square, says David Nish, acting director for Streetwork, an outreach program that offers showers, medical services, and counseling to street kids.

Ali Forney at safespace in 1994, two years before being murdered
photo: Meg Handler
Ali Forney at safespace in 1994, two years before being murdered

"It created a very hectic situation and it still has impacts," Nish says. "We are trying to find where the kids are on a daily basis. They moved to areas in Brooklyn or Hunts Point in the Bronx or near the Queensboro Bridge. I think they felt a real safety in knowing each other on the streets. And it's very dangerous on the streets."

Nish mentions three murdered young people to emphasize the perils of street life. Ali Forney, Kevin "Kiki" Freeman, and Dion Webster were all familiar faces at Street Works as well as at the SafeSpace shelter. All three were young, transgendered prostitutes who picked up tricks near Times Square. They left the Times Square area after the 1996 crime sweeps. All three started prostituting uptown around 135th Street and Amsterdam Avenue or 130th Street and Fifth Avenue, areas said to be much more dangerous. By the end of 1997, all three had been murdered.

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