As we near the anniversary of the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that if we can all agree on one thing, it’s that this year has been fraught with challenges. One group this crisis has been particularly difficult on is unsheltered LGBTQ youth.
Many shelters and programs have had to reduce or halt operations completely due to financial struggles and growing concerns surrounding health and safety, leaving unsheltered LGBTQ young people without the resources that were once available. Combined with school closures and high rates of unemployment, many people are forced to spend more time than ever in unsafe or unaffirming living situations, and their choices for help seem slimmer than ever before.
One organization that has managed to remain open despite the many adversities the past year has thrown their way is Lost-n-Found Youth (LNFY).
LNFY’s mission is “to end homelessness for all LGBTQ youth by providing them with the skills and support needed to live independently.” Their multifaceted approach includes a day shelter, transitional and emergency housing, a street outreach program, and a thrift store to help fund it all. They also traditionally offer HIV testing and education, although these services have been halted as a result of the pandemic.
LNFY director Nasheedah Muhammad has said that the last year has “been a challenge” as the organization has worked to adjust to the new normal and continue to help those in need. They’ve reduced the number of beds in their transitional housing and are completely full. One notable challenge they’ve faced is the need to quarantine new additions to their transitional housing. Once new clients come in, they’re forced to remain isolated for ten days in order to prevent potential COVID-19 spread.
“I just can’t imagine coming in off the streets, finally finding a place I can go to escape homelessness, and finding myself isolated for ten days, but we have to do it,” Muhammad told Georgia Voice. “We’ve put people in hotel rooms when our quarantine rooms were full, and we’re doing everything we can, but it’s not easy.”
Another challenge LNFY has had to overcome over the last year is a stark decrease in the number of volunteers willing to work on-site. While all staff members and volunteers are required to agree to temperature checks, PPE is readily available and all persons on-site are required to wear a mask, Muhammad says people are still wary of coming in. Some of the services the program used to feed clients have also slowed in participation as well, as the pandemic has kept people in their homes.
Surviving a pandemic, experiencing homelessness, or enduring an unsafe or unaffirming living situation is difficult enough, but going through all three simultaneously has a negative effect on mental health. LNFY’s hotline for referrals has seen an increase in call volume, and one of the main requests coming from clients has been for more mental health resources.
While their hotline and requests for beds have seen an increase over the course of the pandemic, they have seen an overall decrease in the number of people coming into their day shelter. Muhammad theorizes that this may be because people are hunkering down and avoiding movement during the pandemic, and that many people may have thought that Lost-n-Found had closed. Their outreach program has been an important part of helping get food and assistance to those who need it when they aren’t going into the shelter.
Muhammad says that an important and easy way to help LNFY is to follow them on all their social media platforms and engage with and share their posts. Information on how to donate through simple channels like Venmo, PayPal, or Cash App or by setting up a monthly donation or peer fundraiser is on their website. By bringing clothes to or shopping at their thrift store, you can also help financially support their programs.
“We have the resources in our community to end the problem of LGBT youth homelessness today,” Muhammad said. “We just have to mobilize and pool those resources, and we can do it.”
To view LNFY’s strategic plan, find information about their thrift store, or see how you can get involved, visit lnfy.org.