Funding restored for center for gays

December 6, 2008 3:33:21 PM PST
A Manhattan drop-in center for homeless gay youths - a high-risk group for contracting HIV - has been spared the possibility of closing its doors after officials restored HIV-related funding. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, looking for ways to spend money more efficiently as the economic turmoil spreads, told the Ali Forney Center in September that it wouldn't be renewing $600,000 in annual funding for its Manhattan drop-in center, officials said.

Trying to stanch a projected multibillion-dollar budget deficit, city officials had decided those funds would be better spent on housing for people living with HIV/AIDS rather than on the outreach and case management services the drop-in center provides, they said. The decision led to an outcry from politicians such as Rep. Jerrold Nadler and state Sen. Tom Duane, who urged the city to reconsider.

"Difficult choices have to made in these tough times," the health department's Dr. Monica Sweeney said of the initial decision to reallocate the funds. "No one or any program or any sector is going to be spared during the meltdown."

But a body of AIDS service providers and government officials voted recently to continue funding for the center, allowing it to stay open. The funding for the drop-in center will come from federal Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Relief Emergency grants.

The center is named after Ali Forney, a gay man who for years had struggled with homelessness and drug use and was fatally shot in the head in 1997. His death highlighted the issue of homelessness among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths and young adults, and it led to the opening of an organization that provides housing and other help for them.

The center isn't the only HIV service provider feeling the squeeze as the city tightens its belt. St. Vincent's Hospital Manhattan is appealing the city's recent decision to end $200,000 in annual funding for a program at the hospital's HIV center offering time-sensitive treatment to try to prevent infection in people who have been potentially exposed to the virus.

New York City has long been considered the epidemic's epicenter: There are more than 100,000 residents living with HIV. The city's infection rate was three times the national rate in 2006: 72 of every 100,000 residents compared to 23 per 100,000 residents nationally, the city health department said.

This year the drop-in center at the Ali Forney Center tested more than 200 people from ages 16 to 24 for HIV; connected more than 50 HIV-positive youths to medical care and housing; and served over 10,000 meals, said Carl Siciliano, executive director of the Forney Center, which has an annual budget for 2008-09 of $4 million.

"These kids are grossly underserved in this city," Siciliano said. "Their existence is a struggle for survival. We are the best ally and support they have. To have taken that away from them would have been cruel and reckless."

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