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De Blasio Administration Launches Nation’s Most Comprehensive Workforce Development Program for Homeless and Runaway LGBTQI Youth

October 8, 2019

New City program to help LGBTQI young adults attain basic work skills credentials, paid training opportunities, social and emotional support, and connect them to short and long-term career opportunities

NEW YORK— The de Blasio administration today announced NYC Unity Works, the country’s most comprehensive workforce development program for LGBTQI people in the country, specifically aimed at creating work and education opportunities for homeless and runaway LGBTQI youth. The announcement comes as the Supreme Court heard opening arguments for a case that will consider whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace.

“The NYC Unity Project was created to address the discrimination and obstacles to getting an education and employment often experienced by young people who identify as LGBTQI.  We want all of our youth to be safe, supported and healthy, and look to their future with hope and excitement. Without some assistance, the tremendous potential of many LGBTQI young people cannot be realized,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray. “We’re proud to launch the nation’s most comprehensive workforce program for LGBTQI young people to make sure they have the education, training and the experience they need to start successful careers. We will not sit on our hands while the forces in Washington, DC, and throughout this country push back on human rights and push back on our truth. Here in New York City, we are pushing forward, protecting our youth and putting them on the path to success.”

“Unity Works is a powerful example of the City’s commitment to expanding and improving youth employment programs to serve high-need young people in new and unique ways. All young New Yorkers -- particularly those more likely to face homelessness and workplace discrimination – need the right systems and supports to secure quality educational and employment opportunities that set them up for long-term success in today’s changing economy,” said J. Phillip Thompson, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives, which includes all youth employment initiatives, the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) and the NYC Center for Youth Employment (CYE).

“As the federal government attempts to tear away our rights and dignity, NYC is going in the opposite direction—not only by continuing to rigorously enforce LGBTQI legal protections, but by meaningfully investing in our young people’s futures,” said Ashe McGovern, Executive Director of the NYC Unity Project. “The NYC Unity Works program will better equip LGBTQI young people who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness with the tools they need to gain meaningful employment, while ensuring that they have the emotional and skills-based support they need to get there. We are deeply grateful to the many community partners, leaders, and young people who helped build this program model, and are proud that it will be the largest of its kind in the nation.”

“The Administration has made an unparalleled investment to enhance services for LGBTQI youth across the City, generating innovative solutions and moving beyond a one-size-fits-all approach. Addressing the needs of young people facing hard times is crucial, and through NYC Unity Works LGBTQI homeless and runaway youth will receive the social and emotional supportive services as well as paid short- and long-term career opportunities to help them reach their full potential,” said Department of Youth and Community Development Commissioner Bill Chong.

“CGE commends the significant work of First Lady Chirlane McCray and Ashe McGovern, Executive Director of the Unity Project, for their leadership in the launch of Unity Works, the nation’s most comprehensive workforce development program for homeless and LGBTQI youth. Targeted workforce development programs and workplace protections are of the utmost importance, as one’s economic mobility is directly connected to their safety, health, and overall well-being. New York City has long been a leader on supporting the LGBTQI community across all areas of their lives, and this program is one more way in which we are a model for the nation. The Administration’s bold investment is sure to have a ripple effect across communities in New York City that will be felt for generations to come,” said Jacqueline Ebanks, Executive Director, Commission on Gender Equity.

LGBTQI communities, in New York City and nationwide, experience significant barriers to accessing meaningful employment opportunities, as evidenced by higher poverty and unemployment rates, higher rates of incarceration and higher rates of homelessness than their peers. These rates of unemployment and poverty are particularly pronounced for LGBTQI communities of color, transgender and gender non-binary people, and youth and adults experiencing homelessness. Using evidence-based local and national data, NYC Unity Works will address these needs and bridge key gaps in existing services for these communities, using models and best practices that have been identified by local and national workforce experts.

As a result of harassment and mistreatment in school and family rejection, often at a young age, many LGBTQI young people are driven to leave school before completing their high school degree and are forced into homelessness, without access to financial, familial or peer support. As a result of these experiences, these same young people are less likely to access and trust services that are not specifically targeted towards them and focused on meeting their needs by ensuring LGBTQI cultural responsiveness and competency throughout each program element.

The program will be run through the Department of Youth and Community Development (DYCD) in close partnership with the NYC Unity Project and the NYC Center for Youth Employment (CYE). The program will engage young adults 16-24, who are currently homeless or at risk of experiencing homelessness to facilitate their attainment of: basic work skills credentials, most importantly the High School Equivalency (HSE), advanced training opportunities during the program, social and emotional trauma-informed mental health support to ensure proper adjustment before entering the workforce, and meaningful connections to both short and long-term career opportunities, culminating in their enrollment in higher education enrollment and/or advanced workforce training credentials with direct, facilitated connection to long term LGBTQI affirming employment opportunities.

Key program elements include:

  • Access to two years of service delivery with one additional follow-up year. This term of service acknowledges the significant barriers many LGBTQI young people have experienced in attaining necessary education opportunities and skills, necessary to complete job training and work opportunities.  
  • Key staffing positions aimed at ensuring their success holistically, including: job developers, case navigators, outreach support, workforce facilitation, educational support and mental health services. These staff will work together to help youth develop career/education plans, make connections to jobs and postsecondary programs, and learn workforce skills and credentials necessary to obtain meaningful employment—with direct connection to long-term employment.  The program staff will holistically address needed resources to ensure stability and consistency in program participation, including gathering and changing identity documents, accessing public benefits, food, clothing, and other social supports needed for successful completion of the program and adjustment to enter the workforce successfully. Finally, the mental health support staff will ensure young people are able to address the social and emotional wellness needs that may be holding them back from full participation in the program and workforce more generally.  
  • Opportunities to enroll in advanced training certification programs, with a specific focus on training and job opportunities in high-growth industry areas that LGBTQI young people themselves have expressed interest in exploring, including media, the arts, and human and social services, in addition to more traditional pathways.

 The program will provide up to three years of serviceincluding two years of intensive direct services that include paid internships and other compensated opportunities. All advanced training, program, and employment opportunities will be assessed for LGBTQI-affirming practices and must meet measurable job outcomes criteria, in order to ensure successful transition of participants into long-term career opportunities.

In September 2017, First Lady Chirlane McCray launched the NYC Unity Project – the City’s first-ever, citywide initiative focused on delivering and coordinating affirming services to LGBTQI communities across NYC. Recent Project commitments include:

  • An expansion of 24-hour youth drop-in centers to every borough and funding for new shelter beds for young people age 21-24, to addres s the epidemic of LGBTQI youth homelessness; 
  • Development of LGBTQI-affirming trainings and certifications in partnership with NYC Health + Hospitals (H+H) to more than 500 H+H medical providers and front line health workers; 
  • The creation of LGBTQI-affirming mental health training programs to address LGBTQI youth family rejection, which is the leading cause of LGBTQI youth homelessness and;  
  • Citywide public awareness campaigns featuring LGBTQI youth to reduce anti-LGBTQI stigma and bias and connect LGBTQI youth to city services.

On April 22, the Supreme Court announced it would take up three cases that ask whether or not to roll back protections for LGBTQI people under the Civil Rights Act’s prohibitions on sex discrimination. In July, the de Blasio Administration joined a coalition of 66 local governments across the nation in filing an amicus brief in support of three LGBTQI employees arguing that these protections are vital and must remain in place.

“The Unity Project has made our youth homelessness system more responsive, more robust and better equipped to address the disproportionate numbers of LGBTQI youth experiencing homelessness in our city. Unity Works complements our existing efforts to prevent and address youth homelessness through the collaboration of multiple City agencies by further addressing the education and workforce needs of LGBTQI youth experiencing homelessness using best practices of positive youth development, LGBTQI cultural competency, and longer periods of direct service to ensure that participants gain the skills to support their exits out of homelessness,” said Cole Giannone, Senior Advisor for Youth Homelessness, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services.

“As part of our commitment to helping every young New Yorker prepare for career success, the Center for Youth Employment is proud to partner with the Unity Project and DYCD to create Unity Works,” said David Fischer, Executive Director of the NYC Center for Youth Employment. “This program model was intentionally designed to meet the unique needs of LGBTQI young people, allowing them to earn credentials, build skills, and stay on a path toward long-term careers and economic security.”

“The LGBTQ+ community has faced enough discrimination, and it must stop” said Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer. “This workforce development program will be filling a big void, and I thank the de Blasio administration for implementing such a vital program.”

“According to a recent study, there are more than 1,600 homeless LGBTQ youth in New York City -- more than half of whom have seriously considered suicide. These kids need our help. That's why the Democratic Majorities in the New York State Legislature passed the legislation I carried with Assembly Member Felix Ortiz requiring LGBTQ specific training for runaway and homeless youth providers, and why I'm so glad to see First Lady McCray and the de Blasio Administration create NYC Unity Works,” said Senator Brad Hoylman. “We need all hands on deck to ensure homeless and runaway LGBTQ youth are treated with dignity, compassion and respect.”

“This initiative and trust building reassures our LGBTQ youth that they deserve our unconditional support,” said Assembly Member Harry Bronson. “By building trust and breaking down barriers, we will ensure that our LGBTQ homeless youth have equal opportunities and that they are never denied their ability to live as full citizens.”


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