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Slump threatens center for boro’s LGBT youth

By Nathan Duke

The director of western Queens’ most prominent gay and transgender center said the group was struggling to pay the rent on a month−to−month basis amid the current national economic downturn.

The Rev. Louis Braxton, director of Carmen’s Place in Astoria, said the center continued to struggle after moving in August from its Steinway Street locale to a new three−bedroom apartment near Astoria Park. He said the center gets enough food and clothing donations to accommodate its six to seven residents.

But he said the center scrambles each month to pay its $2,600 rent.

“Before the economic meltdown, people were sending $1,000 checks in the mail,” Braxton said. “We’re a grassroots organization that depends on people of goodwill who see the value of keeping young people off the streets.”

He said the center is currently attempting to find 100 people, who would each donate $30 each month toward the shelter’s rent.

Braxton said all of the shelter’s workers, including social workers and psychologists, are volunteers and that he hopes to eventually hire a staff for the center.

“I need to have people who can work with very troubled adolescents who are often very emotional or aggressive,” he said.

Braxton said the center is much safer than Manhattan’s homeless LGBT shelters, which often house as many as 40 to 50 people at a time and where youths are often attacked or robbed. He said Carmen’s Place typically shelters no more than seven youths, between the ages of 16 and 23, at one time.

Braxton said the shelter’s bank account previously had several thousand dollars set aside for future months’ rent after a donor handed the center a $5,000 check. But he said the current economic climate has resulted in a shrinking account.

“I never know what’s going to happen at the end of the month,” he said. “We’re now down to a few hundred dollars from a few thousand in the bank account. It’s scary.”

Carmen’s Place was originally located at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Astoria until that house of worship permanently shut its doors. The shelter moved to Steinway Street last year. Last summer one of the center’s transgender teens were harassed by a group of teens, who also struck Braxton with a metal stick and punched him.

He said the new site is more secluded and safer for the teens.

“The kids get harassed everywhere they go,” he said. “But now they are not as visible. So it feels much safer.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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