By Andrea Swalec
MANHATTAN — The city’s homeless LGBT youth will have a new place to sleep beginning in September.
The state’s first permanent supportive housing facility for LGBT youth will open in Harlem on Sept. 1, the residence’s executive director said.
True Colors Residence was co-founded by singer and longtime gay-rights activist Cyndi Lauper, who sang the affirming 1986 hit song for which the new building is named.
“These young people often face discrimination and at times physical assault in some of the very places they have to [go to] for help,” Lauper wrote in a letter posted on the residence’s website. “This is shocking and inexcusable!”
True Colors, on West 154th Street near Frederick Douglass Boulevard, will house 30 homeless LGBT youths ages 18 to 24 in studio apartments.
The six-story building has a computer room, resource library and communal indoor and outdoor space, and will offer support and job-training services, executive director Colleen Jackson said.
“We want to provide a very safe and supportive environment for young LGBT adults who have had a real rough time,” Jackson said. “We want to make sure they know they are cared for, supported and have a roof over their heads.”
Residents are signing year-long Section 8 leases now and will pay rent according to their incomes, Jackson said.
Many of the residents who will live at True Colors have bounced between LGBT youth service organizations in the city for years, Jackson said.
While several city nonprofits provide outreach services and offer drop-in centers for LGBT youth, only a handful of groups offer emergency or transitional housing. True Colors offers youth long-term homes.
“Nobody gets kicked out when they turn 25,” Jackson noted. “We believe that people will determine their own readiness to leave and go into other housing.”
A July 2007 study by the Empire State Coalition of Youth and Family Services found that New York had an estimated 3,800 homeless youth.
Between 15 and 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, according to a June 2010 report by the city’s Commission for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Runaway and Homeless Youth.
The $11 million residence was financed by the Corporation for Supportive Housing, the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s Supportive Housing Loan program, and many other sources.
True Colors will have an annual operating budget of about $700,000, Jackson added.
She said that Greenwich Village, an LGBT refuge for decades, has grown less hospitable to needy youth.
“My sense is that the Village has changed quite a bit,” Jackson explained. “While it’s still obviously very gay-friendly, the socioeconomic status of the people who live there has changed and has made the area not want to deal with young homeless people.”
But even with the addition of the residence uptown, Jackson said LGBT youth need more temporary housing, permanent housing and political support.
“There are not enough services for this population,” she said. “And there are way too many people who are underserved.”