Project Wake Up Call: Brooklyn Uncovered is an art project that is dedicated to raising awareness and funds for the Ali Forney Center, a nonprofit whose purpose is protecting LGBTQ youths from the harms of homelessness and empowering them with the tools they need to live independently. Ignite change by supporting the Ali Forney Center today.
The Ali Forney Center was established in 2002 and takes its namesake from a gender-nonconforming teen who ran away from home and was tragically murdered in 1997 on the streets of Harlem. Committed to saving the lives of LGBTQ young people, the center has grown to become the largest agency dedicated to LGBTQ homeless youths in the country. They assist nearly 1,400 youths per year through a 24-hour drop-in center which provides over 70,000 meals annually, medical and mental health services through an on-site clinic, and a scattered housing site program.
Project Wake Up Call puts a twist on the ordinary donations process. If you donate $100 or more, you will receive an offer to stay at the Hotel RL location of your choice for one night (terms and conditions apply).
Ian Tong is a New York-based photographer originally from Hong Kong. With over 15 years in the industry, his experience encompasses a wide range of commissioned and personal photographic work. A series of personal projects currently keeps him busy, taking him to memorable locales such as Stockholm and Shanghai.
Tong’s personal work is concerned with environmental and societal issues that has been recognized regularly and featured in various competitions. His work has been selected for the prestigious American Photography annuals 27, 28 and 30. Also of particular note is his inclusion in the Aperture Foundation 2014 summer open exhibition.
Ian has a BA from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada and a MFA degree from Pratt Institute, New York, NY.
To capture the reality of Brooklyn’s vulnerable LGBTQ homeless youths, urban photographer, Ian Tong, was tasked with creating the following series of photos.
Located in the heart of Bed-Stuy, Hotel RL Brooklyn invites guests to come and discover the local flavor. Famed attractions, such as the Navy Yard and the Barclay’s Center, are all waiting to be explored nearby.
“The winter during which I photographed the Brooklyn project was particularly cold and brisk. Brooklyn encompasses a large area and getting around required some planning. Ultimately, on days which I wanted to cover a lot of ground, I decided it best to travel by car and on other days when I wanted to explore in a more thorough manner, it was better to travel on foot.
On one of the days that I was on foot, a big winter storm was in the midst of blanketing New York City, with strong winds and heavy snow. I was dressed in outdoor gear and boots suitable for a winter hike, nevertheless it felt bitingly cold. Walking beneath the highway in view of the Brooklyn Bridge, I came upon a homeless person’s encampment. It was an assemblage of bags, crates and shopping carts. In the middle of all these belongings was a park bench on which someone was sleeping beneath multiple layers of blankets, cocooned against the cold. The reality of what it’s like to live on the streets without shelter is simply plain to see.
Later that week, talking to a park warden in McGolrick Park in Greenpoint, he pointed out that there are many homeless individuals but they can be hard to identify, as the signs that they are homeless are not immediately obvious. Being homeless can carry a sense of stigma and often, individuals in need do not want to be identified as such. From what I saw walking through Brooklyn I would say that this is frequently the case. Panhandling is uncommon as it is discouraged by the police. What is occasionally noticeable are activities such as collecting bottles and cans to redeem for change.
The Ali Forney Center one of the key charities sponsored in this project, it manages a multi-featured program dedicated to providing services to homeless and at risk LGBTQ youths. Their program includes shelter facilities located in Brooklyn, which houses clients, providing them with bed and living accommodations. Additionally their outreach center located in Harlem provides food and medical services as well as scheduled activities geared towards grounding and education for their clients.
In my time spent visiting there, I met a few of their clients; Shauna (not her real name in order to protect her privacy), who had her hair tied up in an exuberant bun, posed for me in front of colorful artworks that fellow clients had created at the center. She and others that I met, described discrimination and abuse at home because of their beliefs or sexual orientation. Additional accounts of running away from home or abandonment were not uncommon. Charities such as the Ali Forney Center provide critical services for such youths who are either homeless or in need.”