It’s a breezy Friday morning on Chantilly Drive off Cheshire Bridge Road and the frenetic pace of the cars on I-85 is matched by the flurry of activity inside Lost-N-Found Youth’s drop-in center and thrift store. The door chimes as each person enters and exits, making you consider the possibility that Pandora has a Morse Code station.
Lost-N-Found Outreach Director Art Izzard is in action, fielding a call to the hotline from a 23-year-old transgender woman who had been kicked out of the shelter she was staying in because she apparently presented “a safety issue.”
Izzard is asking her a series of questions to gauge what her situation is, in other words “doing a bit of triage” as he later puts it.
“If you came into Lost-N-Found, what we would want you to be doing with the rest of your time is trying to find employment so that you could get a job, save up some money, get your own place and then move in and have your own life again,” he tells her. “Does that sound like something you would be interested in?”
He arranges to have her stop by the drop-in center that night and assures her they will have a bed for the night. Unfortunately, Izzard tells me later, she didn’t show. She doesn’t have a cell phone either, so in this case Lost-N-Found is dependent on her to follow through.
“That underscores the immediacy of the need and service we offer and the importance of the drop-in center,” Izzard says. “Often times we only get one chance to connect Lost-n-Found to a youth living on the street.”
Three goals, one mission
Roughly 750 LGBT kids are roaming the streets tonight in Atlanta with no place to sleep, and Lost-N-Found Youth is on a mission to do something about it. The program has been serving LGBT homeless youth since their doors opened in 2011, and with several projects finished and more in the works, they are on track this year to become one of the largest such shelters in the country.
The group’s board of directors and members set three goals last May: open a thrift shop, open a drop-in center and open up a new, larger shelter. They’re two for three so far.
The drop-in center on Chantilly Drive in the Cheshire Bridge area is now open, and allows teens and young adults ages 13-26 to come by, get out of the cold, take a shower, use a computer, do laundry and more. Those over 18 can also meet with a staff member while there to be evaluated and see if they are a good fit for emergency (30-day) or transitional (90-day) housing in a property Lost-N-Found runs on the West End that has six beds available.
The 13,000 square-foot thrift shop and consignment store, which is in the same building as the drop-in center, had a soft opening last November and is putting the final touches together in time for their big grand opening on Saturday, Feb. 1. The store, as large as any of its kind in town, is a vital fundraising source for the organization.
But it’s that third goal ― which is, ironically, finding a new home ― that’s going to propel Lost-N-Found forward into being a premier support organization in 2014.
‘No more of the harrassment, getting beaten up, raped.’
In addition to the hotline available 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year, the nonprofit also does a monthly street outreach where members canvas areas popular with homeless LGBT youth, including Cheshire Bridge Road, Piedmont Road, Ansley area, the Old Fourth Ward and Little Five Points. And with the drop-in center and consignment store up and running, Lost-N-Found needs to tackle finding a new home.
Enter Saint Mark United Methodist Church. Last year, Saint Mark officials gave Lost-N-Found a tour of two different houses they had purchased that are right behind the church, but it was the third property at the corner of Juniper Street and Fifth Street that caught everyone’s eyes.
“I said, ‘Gosh it would be fabulous if that old Victorian duplex is available,’” recalls Lost-N-Found Executive Director Rick Westbrook. “We got the key and went in and fell in love at first sight.”
While the house requires extensive renovations ― a “complete gutting” as Lost-N-Found officials put it ― the price was right: Saint Mark offered a 20-year lease at a rate of one dollar a year. There have been two highly successful community volunteer cleanup days and there will be more. Lost-N-Found will also be doing a full-court press of fundraising in the coming months to finance the renovation. The group’s proposed budget is $1 million, the bulk of which will go towards renovating the new property, which they expect to open by November.
“Once we do, that is going to become the permanent home, offices and housing component for Lost-N-Found,” Izzard says. The site will include emergency shelter with 15 to 20 beds, transitional housing with around 18 to 20 beds available, the new drop-in center and office space for the organization. That would make Lost-N-Found larger than the Ali Forney Center in New York City, which is nearly 12-years-old.
While there is still plenty of community support needed in order to get those roughly 750 LGBT kids off the streets, the group remains grateful. “Just to see the outpouring of love, not just from the LGBT community, but from the straight community as well ― it does this old sissy’s heart good,” Westbrook says.
But much work remains. Lost-N-Found just passed the 300 mark in terms of homeless LGBT youths served, and they’re determined to see this through.
“No more of the harassment, getting beaten up, raped,” Westbrook says “That’s just not going to happen anymore. We’re not going to stand for it.”
Lost-N-Found Youth Thrift & Consignment Store Grand Opening
Saturday, Feb. 1
6 ― 8 p.m.
2585 Chantilly Drive, Atlanta, GA 30324