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Lew Fidler, Homeless Youth Champion, Dies at 62

Former Brooklyn councilmember led fight for LGBTQ shelter beds during Bloomberg years

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Lew Fidler, who during 12 years on the New York City Council played the leading role in rallying public dollars to address the stark shortage of homeless youth shelter, particularly those providing safe space for LGBTQ young people, died on May 5 at the age of 62.

Fidler was found unconscious on the floor of a Queens movie theater the day before and taken to Elmhurst Hospital, where he died. Police did not respond as to whether they are investigating any possible crime. The New York Post reported that sources said none was suspected, but an autopsy would be performed.

From 2002 through 2013, Fidler represented neighborhoods in southeastern Brooklyn including Mill Basin, Canarsie, and Sheepshead Bay. As chair of the Youth Services Committee during the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Fidler was both vocal and effective in steering city funds to provide more shelter beds for homeless youth and to create shelter space where queer youth, often victimized in congregate care facilities, could safely stay.

At the time, Fidler estimated, roughly 3,800 city youth found themselves without a place to sleep on any given night — with a third to more than 40 percent of them identifying as LGBTQ.

“I want the record to clearly show that the leader of the effort around homeless and runaway youth who were LGBT was Lew Fidler, from Brooklyn,” Christine Quinn, the out lesbian Council speaker during Fidler’s final eight years in office, told Gay City News on Sunday. “He didn’t get one vote from this; in fact, his opponents used it against him. But in his position as chair of the Youth Services Committee, no one was a fiercer fighter for LGBT homeless youth than he was. It was not an issue he was well versed in when he became chair, but he took the time to learn it and to listen to the advocates. As the father of two sons, he was shocked at the way these youth were disregarded and he was not going to let it happen on his watch.”

Over several budget cycles, the Bloomberg administration, even after appointing a task force on LGBTQ homeless youth, zeroed out city spending on appropriate shelters, and Fidler was the councilmember who fought to restore and increase funding.

“Lew Fidler was a true champion for New York City’s homeless youth,” said Carl Siciliano, the founder and executive director of the Ali Forney Center, the nation’s largest provider of housing for homeless queer youth. “He was able to add 70 youth shelter beds as chair of the Youth Committee, and fought like hell to prevent Mayor Bloomberg from cutting those beds. When it came to protecting homeless youth, he had the heart of a lion. Literally hundreds of youths over the past decade have slept in beds instead of subway cars because of Lew. We have lost a hero, and I have lost a great friend.”

Kate Barnhart, director of New Alternatives for Homeless LGBT Youth, which provides services to help homeless young people transition to stable adult lives, said, “Lew Fidler was one of the rare politicians who was willing to take a stand for what he believed in. He was a strong advocate for homeless youth, and was not willing to put up with excuses or obstacles to getting them services. His advocacy was responsible for creating the range of services we have today. Without him, many more youth would be suffering on the streets of New York.”

In December 2010, in the midst of his advocacy for homeless youth, Fidler penned an op ed for Gay City News entitled “Alone and Sleeping on the Street: Happy Holiday.”

Other tributes to him also noted his work on behalf of homeless youth.

In a written statement, out gay Council Speaker Corey Johnson noted that Fidler, whom he termed “a giant in New York City politics,” was “a passionate champion for runaway and homeless youth. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of those young people had their lives changed for the better because of Lew’s tireless work. He was their pitbull.”

In a tweet on Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who served on the Council with Fidler for eight years, said, “Lew embodied courage and compassion. He was a champion and protector to runaway youth and some of the most vulnerable kids in our city.”

Since leaving the Council, Fidler worked for Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, where he remained active in pressing the cause of homeless youth.

In a written statement Sunday, Adams said, “Lew was of great assistance to me in my formative political years. As a result of his assistance, we later became colleagues, and during my tenure as borough president he has served as a vital member of my team. As an elected official, Lew was truly committed to fighting long and hard for those he served. He always stood up for what he believed in, with true courage in his convictions. Lew was a man of high integrity and strong moral values.”

Fidler is survived by his wife Robin and their two sons, Max and Harry.

Updated 11:44 am, May 8, 2019
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