Racism

The Big Apple Has Homelessness—Not Just Dreams and Rich Lifestyles

By Terri Daniels on September, 28 2021

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Terri Daniels

Terri Daniels is an Organizer at Common Justice.

NYC is experiencing a housing crisis, with those who identify as LGBTQIA+ being most impacted.

New York City is portrayed as the city of dreams, fashion, sex, food, and freedom; however, not for us all. New York City is also about poverty, racialized violence, food insecurity, and so many other forms of injustice—especially homelessness. In a recent report, the Coalition of Homelessness states, there were 50,815 homeless people in shelters each night. Homelessness is an epidemic in New York City, and homelessness in New York City has reached the highest levels since the Great Depression of 1930. It is perhaps even worse if you are a queer person in New York City.

In New York City, homelessness is portrayed in a way that is not always remarkably accurate—especially if you are queer. The homeless population is characterized as drug codependent, uneducated, inferior to people who have homes, and need to be saved. However, they do need to be saved—they need access to resources so they can protect themselves. Many organizations advocating to improve homelessness in New York City would agree that the primary cause of homeless amongst families is lack of affordable housing. Being homeless does not look solely one way, and often, it is portrayed in specific ways to keep homeless people inferior—when they are human just like us all.

Being homeless for queer people of color is very high, and all their stories of home insecurity differ—particularly for youth like Winston Tokuhisa. Common Justice’s Organizing team met Winston through our partner organization, New Alternatives, an organization devoted to decreasing LGBT homelessness. Winston became homeless at the age of 20 years old while attending the Honors College at Adelphi University. While there, he could not afford his books and quickly fell behind in his classes. Since then, he has lived in the streets of New York City and has been in and out of the shelter system. Winston was recently interviewed by the New York Daily News, where he shared his story and opened up about how he is still struggling to find stable housing.

Black queer youth is one of the main populations to experience homelessness. According to the Williams Institute, studies find that between 20% and 45% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, at least 2 to 4 times more than the estimated percentage of all youth who identify as LGBTQ. New York City may be the city of dreams and hope, however, when you are Black and Queer, it may make it harder for you to reach certain dreams—or obtain basic resources to survive a hyper capitalistic city.

Winston and so many other Queer youth stories’ that go unheard contain the same message in New York City: the big apple is not big. Rather, a small apple for certain social identities that have access to the fruit to bite. ‘The Land of Opportunity’ or ‘The Big Apple’ is simply capitalistic rhetoric that doesn’t exist for certain identities who do not benefit from nepotism, racism, heterosexualism, cissexism, and more. Queer youth of color remain the highest population to experience homelessness. When will we learn: We cannot reform how the tree grows—we must organize to dig out the root of the tree to truly solve the problem of queer homelessness?

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