Superstorm Sandy’s record storm surge on Oct. 29 inundated a New York City drop-in center for homeless youth.
Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Ali Forney Center, told the Washington Blade earlier on Saturday the storm left up to four feet of water from the nearby Hudson River in the facility on West 22nd Street in Manhattan’s West Chelsea neighborhood. The water has since receded, but Siciliano said the storm surge “decimated” the drop-in center.
“Everything is destroyed — all of the electricity in the place, the floors, the computers, the laptops, the phones, files, all the furniture,” he said. “Everything is just destroyed. The refrigerator was floating and knocked over, all the food was out. The space is uninhabitable.”
The organization named in honor of Ali Forney, a homeless LGBT youth advocate who was murdered in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan in 1997, operates seven housing facilities in Brooklyn and another in Queens. None of them suffered any damage from the storm.
“We’re very grateful for that,” said Siciliano.
Sandy also left the Ali Forney Center’s administrative office in Midtown Manhattan undamaged. A second drop-in center currently under construction in Harlem is not scheduled to open until early next year.
“It’s going to be some months before we’re able to be in there so we’re going to have to really scramble to figure out a way to work with these kids,” said Siciliano. “The kids that come into that space are like our most vulnerable kids. They’re the ones who are out on the streets with nowhere to go. And that program’s really a lifeline for them. They get food and clothing and showers and bathroom facilities, medical care [and] HIV testing. It’s kind of our triage place in the city for kids who are chucked out on the streets.”
Sandy forced the Empire State Pride Agenda, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and other LGBT advocacy groups to close their New York offices because of a lack of electricity and in some cases flooding from the storm surge that reached 13.88 feet at the Battery in lower Manhattan.
Neither the LGBT Community Center in Greenwich Village or the Gay Men’s Health Crisis’ new offices on West 33rd Street on the West Side of Manhattan suffered any damage from Sandy. Gay City News reported the storm surge flooded Bailey-Holt House, a building on the corner of Christopher Street and the West Side Highway in the far West Village in which 44 people with HIV/AIDS live.
“We seem to have taken the brunt of it,” said Siciliano, referring to the impact the storm had on other LGBT advocacy groups in the five boroughs. “We’re just half a block away from the river.”
Siciliano said he has spoken with officials at the White House, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and both New York City Council Christine Quinn’s and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s offices. The Ali Forney Center is also accepting donations on its website to continue its outreach and advocacy efforts.
“There are so many problems that I have to deal with all the time with these kids, but I never did really think in my mind about catastrophic flooding,” said Siciliano. “That’s definitely a new level of things to be concerned about.”