LGBTQ youth center serves community’s most vulnerable

MANHATTAN - Homelessness, discrimination, bullying, assaults, these are just some of what the LGBTQ youth encounter today.

New Alternatives is a safe haven for the youngest members of this community, a place they can call home.

"New Alternatives is a small, grassroots drop-in center for homeless LGBTQ youth and young adults," said Kate Barnhart, Executive Director of New Alternatives. "We are a low barrier agency, you don't need ID, no appointment, you just come in and get your services and that's how it works here."

The services are plenty, from meals to education to employment to legal services. "We provide a wide range of services we start with the basics, meals, clothing, toothbrushes and then we also provide mental health services, group counseling, case management," said Barnhart.

We met Kaashifa this afternoon. The budding actor just goes by one name and he has been coming to New Alternatives since 2012. He credits them with helping him turn his life around and become the person he wants to be. "I wanted to be in a safe environment and be comfortable with myself," said Kaashifa.

"New Alternatives is basically like a giant extended family we have generations," said Barnhart. "Some of our staff are former clients."

One of those former clients turned counselor is Ramon Leclerc.

"We're just willing to work with them and meet them wherever," said Leclerc. "The biggest part of this job is having patience and compassion and empathy."

Leclerc himself was the victim of a hate crime just last night. "

Some guy comes behind, he threw a punch we started fighting," recounts Leclerc. "He had me on the ground, just kept punching me in the head." Leclerc suffered a concussion and has filed a police report.

At least 40 percent of the homeless youth in New York City identify with the LGBTQ community and a big part of what New Alternatives does to help them find housing.

"We do all kinds of housing work, we partner with shelters but we also work on long term housing," said Barnhart.

"The major challenge they all face is homelessness whether they've been thrown out by family who don't accept them because they're gay or lesbian or transgender. Some have been evicted or aged out of the foster care or come out of the juvenile justice system with no where to go. There are not enough beds for the number of people who are currently homeless."

Outside their west side offices, the Rainbow flag flies - but inside the work they do extends beyond Pride Month. The organization does not get any government funding and relies solely on donations from individuals and companies. They also hold their weekly meals and keep a food pantry.

"What they see of New York City is the Pride parade and 'Will and Grace' so they see that's what it's going to be," said Barnhart.

"But they don't realize how hard it is to get a job, live in New York City and survive."

Whether they have been ostracized by family, forced to leave conservative communities, or just have no where to go, New Alternatives is a place LGBTQ youth can turn to.

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