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Is GLASS the first non-profit domino to fall?

Wednesday night, eight days after its 25th anniversary, the board of directors of Gay and Lesbian  Adolescent Social Services (GLASS) voted 7-0 (with one abstention) to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy this afternoon.  According to founder and executive director Terry DeCrescenzo, the staff is so “outraged” at the board’s decision, they plan to ask a court to intervene and accept a reorganization plan instead.

“This is a world-class disaster,” DeCrescenzo told me by phone, noting that GLASS just became the first licensed LGBT adoption agency in the country.  Their primary program is providing group homes for 40 LGBT 15-17 year olds, and transitional living for 25 teens between 17-19.  

“Where are those kids going to go? The county will tell you they’ll place them somewhere.  But you tell me – who wants or who knows how to work with trans kids? My guess is that the kids will run away and we’ll see them on the streets.”

DeCrescenzo says she believes the board filed for Chapter 7 out of fear of their own personal liability because the agency was behind in paying Worker’s Comp and with the IRS. But she says an LA County contract check was expected to cover the gap and she could work out a payment plan with the IRS.

Additionally, the reorganization plan would change the group home structure from a “family style” of six beds with two fulltime staff to 12-bed congregate living – hardly ideal but “better than going under.”

DeCrescenzo started GLASS Feb. 8, 1984 after working with adolescents as a licensed clinical social worker and a juvenile trainer with the LA County Probation Department and seeing how “horrendously” LGBT kids were treated. Adolescent LGBT homeless runaways busted for minor offenses such as shoplifting or some charge associated with survival sex would be sent to the state’s California Youth Authority because, DeCrescenzo says, local facilities refused to accept “overt homosexuals, fire-setters, or youth charged with or convicted of homicide.”

“Someone had to do something so I did it,” DeCrescenzo says.

A closeted gay man named Ed Boyle (now deceased) started two group homes in Los Angeles the early 80s – but it was harder for him since he lacked DeCrescenzo’s professional credibility and there was an intense – though unwarranted – suspicion about him from both the gay and straight communities because of stereotypes of gay men as pedophiles. Without support, he went bankrupt.

DeCrescenzo says it took her a long time to train county departments that there was nothing wrong with leaving “an avowed homosexual alone with children. You leave adult heterosexual men alone with little girls. So why can’t a gay man be left alone with little boys?” She found “fairness” under two directors of the LA County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) – one of whom had a transgender person as second in command – but otherwise she had to do “a lot of education.”

The state, for instance, sent a social worker into a GLASS group home and challenged whether one young girl was really a lesbian because she had long hair.

In 1996, at a time when social workers, courts, lawyers and activists who deal with youth were trying to circumvent the state law prohibiting gay adoption, the state leveled unsubstantiated charges against GLASS staff and board members, precipitating a “crisis.”

“It was a witch hunt. But what was amazing was the readiness of people to believe unsubstantiated charges about child sexual abuse – despite there being no victims and no perpetrators. I was later told by a well-placed informant in [Gov.] Pete Wilson’s administration that the order came from high up to ‘get GLASS.’ My, how times have changed.”

DeCrescenzo says that what lead to this current fiscal crisis was nine years of flat funding, increases in Worker’s Comp, increases in liability, tremendous increases in health insurance and donor fatigue that made it hard to raise money.

Most of GLASS youth are “abused, abandoned and neglected” and referred through DCFS and the Probation Department. DeCrescenzo estimates that about 300 youth have used GLASS group homes or transitional living for youth who age out of the foster care system. The length of their stay varies from a few days to up to six years.  There is a 29 year old who works at GLASS now who started living in a GLASS group home at age 14.

Now DeCrescenzo fears what will happen to those kids. Despite their best intentions, most county facilities have no idea how to deal with LGBT youth “who’ve been knocked around a bit too much.” For instance, she notes that many LGBT kids have “attachment disorders” and have great difficulty living in foster care.

“Sometimes they find it too intimate. Paradoxically, a loving family home stirs up all the old pain and they are reminded that their own families don’t love them.”

DeCrescenzo chokes up. “My heart is just broken for these kids.”

In addition to the LGBT youth displaced by GLASS’ Chapter 7 dissolution, about 150 staff will lose their jobs.

Karen Ocamb started her career at CBS News in New York where she clerked for Dan Rather and Bob Schieffer. She eventually became a producer, leaving CBS News after producing coverage of the 1984 Olympics for CBS affiliates.

Karen has produced, hosted and been a guest on many local public affairs shows and contributed to numerous media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, TV Guide Online, The Advocate, The Bilerico Project, and OutQ News on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio. In 2004, Karen was named Woman of the Year by Christopher Street West, organizers of L.A.’s annual LGBT Pride event.