- Associated Press - Thursday, February 12, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Citing thousands of young runaways turned away from New York shelters whose funding has been slashed, a state lawmaker is calling on the Legislature to restore the money.

Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, said it is “unconscionable” that in one of the wealthiest parts of the world, they struggle to find a safe place to sleep.

Hoylman, Empire State Pride Agenda, the Coalition for Homeless Youth and other advocates gathered outside City Hall in Manhattan on Thursday to advocate for more funding for shelters. Last month, he asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a letter to allocate $4.75 million more for them in the governor’s budget proposal for the coming year. It wasn’t included.

The advocates said funding for youth shelters was cut from $6.3 million in 2008 down to $2.35 million annually the past four years.

Office of Children and Family Services data show 5,000 instances when youths were turned away in 2012 from homeless shelters with no available space.

“This is a moral imperative,” Hoylman said. “This investment will help protect the most vulnerable among us from sexual abuse and trafficking, reduce HIV/AIDS transmissions and keep our kids out of the juvenile justice system.”

The Cuomo administration will consider it, spokesman Richard Azzopardi said. Its budget proposal for the year starting April 1 says the state currently spends about $780 million on services for the homeless and proposed investing $220 million over the next several years for New York City rental assistance and other programs for the city’s “growing” homeless population.

Torreano Santiago, 20, told reporters at City Hall that he’s been homeless for a little more than a year, ever since he was kicked out of his aunt’s home. He’s living at Sylvia’s Place now, an emergency shelter in Manhattan.

He said that for the first couple of weeks he was homeless, he tried to crash at friends’ places and even spent some nights sleeping on subway trains. “I was scared. I had my book bag on my rear end because you would hear stories about that.”

He would jerk awake every now and then, “so it would seem like I wasn’t sleeping whenever a cop would come,” Santiago said. “It was so bad I would cry. At one point, I was thinking about ending it.”

According to Children and Family Services, which oversees and licenses youth shelters, 43 agencies currently operate 105 certified programs with a total bed capacity of 1,096 statewide. In 2013, 26 counties and New York City provided services to 14,143 runaways and homeless youths.

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Associated Press writer Deepti Hajela in New York contributed to this report.

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