The organization has an annual budget of $100,000 funded 80 percent by individual donations. The organization is volunteer run. A thrift store, leaders say, can bring in $100,000 annually.
“It [$1 million] does seem like a daunting number but I have no doubt that the community will step up and help us to reach this goal,” said Lost-n-Found Executive Director Rick Westbrook. “A year and a half ago, people were telling us that we couldn’t do what we have already done. We have done incredible work in that time and now it’s time to step it up and help as many kids as possible.”
Providing shelter and community
Currently the nonprofit rents a house in the West End where it is able to house six young people at a time, but leaders aid the nonprofit needs a space that houses at least 18 people.
Westbrook said Lost-n-Found has maxed out its resources and he hopes the community will step forward to help fund these new projects to help as many homeless young people as possible. The organization is also looking into other funding opportunities, such as government grants.
One person helped by Lost-n-Found is now a college student at Georgia State University. Michael Hodges, 20, who is gay, said he was living in another shelter before he found out about Lost-n-Found.
Hodges said he was raised by his grandparents, but when they died when he was 16, he went to live with an aunt in Covington, Ga. He paid her rent using survivor benefits he received from his grandparents and when that money ran out, his aunt kicked him out of her home, he said.
Depressed with nowhere to go, he said he attempted suicide and was taken to Georgia Regional Hospital, which discharged him to a homeless shelter after he recovered. He stayed at that shelter for a month before moving into Lost-n-Found’s facility and stayed there about two months before enrolling in college and moving into a campus dorm. He now lives with his boyfriend.
“One of their biggest helps is I met with other people who were in the community who were gay and successful at life,” Hodges said. “This let me know my life is not helpless. I know I can do something and help the community.”
The hardest part for Lost-n-Found is not just finding shelter for youth, but helping them feel better about themselves, Hodges said.
“When you have been homeless and have really low self esteem, it can be difficult to live. But after their help I’m doing 300 percent better,” he said.
Goal: $1 million by october 2014
Board members said by taking on the issue of homeless LGBT youth, they opened a “Pandora’s box” of other needs and more people needing help than they imagined. The only way to resolve the problem is to provide more resources — and that takes money.
“Unfortunately, the problem is bigger than we thought. We estimate 250-300 LGBT kids on the streets right now,” said board member Paul Swycord.
The project timeline announced by Lost-n-Found:
• May 2013 — Capital campaign is announced and a host home pilot program begins. The host home is a program seeking volunteers to house homeless LGBT youth in their homes. Target fundraising goal for this month is $30,000.
• July 2013 — Thrift store opens. Board members are seeking a place near Cheshire Bridge Road and Midtown. A thrift store would provide a source of funding for the nonprofit as well as a clothing closet and furniture bank for Lost-n-Found clients. The store would also offer on-the-job training for clients. The board estimates the thrift store will bring in $100,000 annually. The fundraising goal to be met by the end of this month is $130,000.
• October 2013 — Drop-in center opens with one-paid staff at $30,000 a year. The center would provide a place for homeless youth get hot meals, clothing, medical treatment, showers and other necessities. A drop-in center serves those who are not yet willing or eligible to move into a transitional living space while at the same time giving Lost-n-Found volunteers a chance to serve homeless youth daily. The organization is hoping to find a space in Midtown or the Old Fourth Ward within walking distance of a MARTA station.
The search for a new transitional living facility also begins this month. Fundraising goal by the end of this month is $400,000.
• April 2014 — Lost-n-Found hopes to have raised its $1 million goal by this time and break ground on the new transitional living space.
• October 2014 — New transitional living space opens. A 4,000 square-foot site has been located and Lost-n-Found leaders are working on a plan with the owners of the building to renovate it and occupy it rent-free for 15 years.
While the $1 million goal is what is needed to make sure Lost-n-Found helps as many homeless LGBT youth as possible, the organization does have a contingency plan for smaller facilities, such as the thrift store and drop-in center.
“We have a lot of kids on the street,” Westbrook said. “These are our kids. We need to take care of them.”
Top photo: At a May 17 meeting announcing plans to raise $1 million, Lost-n-Found Youth displays its goals to help homeless LGBT young people. (by Dyana Bagby)