Founded in 1994, PCYP is an innovative legal services project focusing on the civil legal needs of the thousands of homeless and street-involved lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQQ) young people in New York City. PCYP works to interrupt the cycles of poverty and criminalization that prevent LGBTQQ young people from living fulfilling lives free from discrimination, abuse, and oppression. We have built unique expertise in the complex legal issues facing marginalized young people at the crossroads of youth and adult systems.
Nearly 4,000 young people in New York City are homeless on any given night. Between 25 and 40% of these young people self-identify as LGBTQQ. Fewer than 300 emergency shelter beds exist for homeless youth in New York City, and only a small fraction of these beds are set-aside for LGBTQQ youth. Young people who cannot find a haven in the overtaxed youth shelter system are often shunted into the violent adult shelter system. Other young people choose to spend the night in parks, on trains, or with a sex work client, exposing them to heightened risks of violence and policing. Because of the current recession economy, the number of homeless LGBTQQ young people in New York City is increasing: more people are losing their homes and jobs, and government support for homeless individuals is shrinking. The result is that more young people are being channeled into homelessness, and are experiencing multiple obstacles to meeting their survival needs.
The clients we serve are primarily lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning young people between the ages of thirteen and twenty-four. Most experience oppression not just because of their LGBTQQ status, but also oppression linked to the intersections of race, class, educational status, and immigration status. Roughly 95% of our clients are youth of color. We serve a large number of immigrant youth, many of whom are struggling to support themselves without legal immigration status; some are monolingual Spanish-speakers. Many of our clients are court-involved. Many of our clients have been in foster care, or are seeking access to the foster care system.
For many of our clients aging out of systems such as foster care, certain forms of immigration relief and youth programs, we provide vital transitional services with expertise in the unique needs of older LGBTQQ youth. The core of our multi-strategy approach is to provide free, non-judgmental, civil legal services. We meet clients through drop-in legal clinics housed at locations where homeless LGBTQQ young people congregate to access food, shelter, healthcare, counseling, case management, and community. We also provide community education in the form of "Know Your Rights" workshops, to empower young to exercise their rights. To support our direct services and education, we also engage in long-term policy and litigation strategies to reform the systems in which our clients struggle to survive.
For nearly two decades, PCYP has developed a reputation for excellence among lawyers, service providers, and – most importantly – the young people we serve. Each year, we open about 200 new cases and serve approximately 400 young people. PCYP is housed within the Urban Justice Center, a non-profit law collaborative that serves as an umbrella organization for a number of innovative projects, each designed to meet the needs of a particular group of marginalized New Yorkers. Working in a collaborative model allows our project – made up of "generalist" law practitioners – to draw on the expertise of lawyers who specialize in many different practice areas, as well as to take advantage of economies of scale. Collaborating with projects that serve persons with mental health diagnoses, sex workers, street vendors, victims of domestic violence, and the homeless also increases our capacity to tackle intractable forms of oppression that cut across demographics.