The Ali Forney Center for homeless LGBT youth marks a major milestone Monday when it breaks ground on a full service, 18-bed facility to be called the Bea Arthur Residence.
The story of why the Golden Girl legend’s name will be on the $3.3 million city-funded project at 222 E. 13th St. is another reason to explode into the show’s theme song: “Thank you for being a friend.”
It was 2009, and the Ali Forney Center was struggling. Its donations were way down because of the recession and on a summer day, as executive director Carl Siciliano was heading into the office, he got a call from a staffer that the landlord was threatening eviction because the center was late on the rent.
“I pulled my car off to the side of the road and said my prayers. I didn’t know what else to do,” Siciliano told Metro. “I’m an old Catholic boy, I was a monk, and I started praying to all of my saints,” he said. And to Bea Arthur.
The famed Broadway and television star, who headlined a huge fundraiser for the center, had died three months earlier. She was a friend and devoted supporter of the center.
When he got to the office, Siciliano got a call: The Golden Girl legend had put the Ali Forney Center, named for a gay teenwho was slain on the city’s streets, at the top of her list of charities in her will.
The money kept the center’s doors open and allowed Siciliano to make payroll for many months.
It was then that he decided that should the center ever own property, he would pay Arthur back for her support by naming the building for her. Today, he makes good on that promise.
At the time of Arthur’s December, 2005 fundraiser, Ali Forney had about a dozen beds and a drop-in center.
When the renovations at 222 East 13th Street are completed, the center will have 107 beds in all for its drop-in center, emergency shelter needs, and its longer-term full-service program that works to turn teens into independent young adults.
The facility is being developed in partnership with the housing preservation group, the Cooper Square Committee.
Siciliano recalled how the plight of LGBT youth touched Arthur, who was 86 when she died.
“Bea was certainly very well aware of herself as an LGBt icon,” he said. “She joked that when Judy Garland died, she took over.”
“But she wasn’t aware there was this phenomenon of gay teenagers coming out and being rejected by their families and it really upset her to hear that, to learn about it.”
There are as many as 20,000 homeless youth in New York City; 40 percent are said to be LGBT.
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