Activists, “Sisters” Behind New LGBTQI Youth Homeless Shelter

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(APN) ATLANTA — Lost-n-Found Youth, Inc. is an Atlanta-based nonprofit corporation whose mission is to take homeless youths who are bisexual, homosexual, or transgender off the streets and transition them into more permanent housing arrangements.

Lost-n-Found (LnF) was founded by activists Rick Westbrook of the Atlanta Chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Art Izzard of the Queer Justice League, and Paul Swicord of Manifest4u after each of them experienced being turned away when attempting to place LGBTQI youth into local shelters and youth aid programs.

In addition to the three founding individuals, the founding organization for the shelter is the Atlanta Chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.  The Sisters are a national network of primarily men who dress in drag as very fabulous nuns, with black and white face paint and excessive amounts of glitter.  

The Atlanta Sisters bring hope, joy, glitter, love, and money to LnF; the Sisters raised money that helped to open the privately funded emergency shelter, and their Saint Lost and Found project became Lost-n-Found Youth, Inc.  The Atlanta Sisters are a non-profit organization formed in 2009 and have given over 35,000 dollars in grants to Atlanta’s LGBTQI community.

LnF rents a house in Atlanta to provide shelter for homeless LGBTQI youth.  It can currently house up to six young people, but they need a much larger space for all the homeless youth in Atlanta.  

LnF opened its doors in November 2011 and has served over 150 youths between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five.

“A lots of the LnF kids have been able to get their own apartment, host homes for other homeless kids, or go to college,” Allen Peebles, a Social Worker and Director of Residential Services at LnF, told Atlanta Progressive News.  “We have a waiting list of youths wanting a home and we refer them to other agencies that we work closely with in town.”

“Some youths have behavioral issues because they are adolescent and adolescence is a difficult time.  Others are so scarred from emotional issues growing up and the way they have been treated–physically or sexually abused–that they act out even more and are harder to reach,” Peebles explained.

“We work with the more open minded places because we don’t want them to listen to a sermon, to get a meal, that consistently reminds them that their lifestyle is wrong,” Peebles said.

Some homeless service providers in Atlanta are religious organizations, and this religiosity manifests itself in different ways through their programs, ranging from potentially insidious offerings of prayer to clients, to outright requirements that people participate in religious programs to receive services.

While Atlanta has another homeless youth shelter Chris Kids, that focuses in part on LGBTQI youth and that receives significant financial support from the gay community, activists found that Chris Kids was inadequate and that more shelter space and services were needed.

Activists held a town hall meeting at the Phillip Rush Center on November 02, 2011, to discuss the situation.  

According to the Georgia Voice magazine, Westbrook criticized Chris Kids at the meeting for raising hundreds of thousands of dollars from the gay community, but not providing emergency shelter or triage services for homeless teenagers and instead focusing on youth in foster care.

One fourth of kids who come out as homosexual to their families are kicked out of their homes and many end up on the streets.  There are many reasons LGBTQI youth are homeless, including being forced to flee homophobic families, conservative communities, or religious and cultural beliefs that demonize homosexuals; others flee from drugs, abuse, and/or poverty.

Local activists note that many homeless kids are squatting in abandoned warehouses, apartments, homes, and buildings.   Some are camping out in the woods and sleeping in cars.  Living on the street, they face dangers from physical attacks and sexual victimization.

Other services provided for LGBTQI youths are tests for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, mental health evaluations, medical care, clothes, food, help obtaining lost or stolen birth certificates or drivers licenses, and GED training and testing. They operate a 24/7 hotline, and the phone number is 678 856 7825, or 678-8-LOST-25.

80 percent of LnF funding comes from individuals via direct donations and fundraising events supported by individuals.  Ten percent comes from businesses and another ten percent from private grants, according to their website.

Lost-n-Found Youth hopes to raise one million dollars by October 2014 to meet the needs of hundreds of Atlanta homeless LGBT youth seeking permanent housing.  The capital campaign was recently announced May 17, 2013 at the Jungle, a drag bar in Atlanta.

Elements of this plan include: a community thrift store that both converts the excess donations received by the organization into operating funds and offers job training to youth in the Lost-n-Found Youth program; a drop-in center to assist homeless LGBTQI youth with clothing, hot meals, hygiene and other supplies, and referrals to resources regarding housing, jobs, education, and other services; and an expanded transitional housing program.

Rick Westbrook, Executive Director of LnF, told APN that he estimates at least three hundred to four hundred LGBTQI youths are homeless in Atlanta.

“It is a big problem in the Southeast because we are in the Bible Belt.  Our youth are bombarded with the message that it is okay to be who you are and it is okay in a perfect world.  So kids today are coming out at an earlier age and here in the Bible Belt that does not always work.  Some parents put kids out like they are disposal trash.  I know of a case where parents found out, from a text message, that their child was gay and they put the child out on the expressway, not even near an exit.  Jesus keep me protected from some of your followers,” Westbrook said.

What makes LnF different from other youth shelters is that it is the only organization actively taking Atlanta’s LGBTQI homeless youth off the streets.  Westbrook and others LnF members go out into the streets trying to find homeless youth and take them off the street.

“They are often hard to find because queer kids try to look good to blend in.  Lots of our work comes through our 24/7 hotline.  When we learn where a kid is and what their needs are we put them on our waiting list.  We monitor them until we can get them in a house or another program.  We take them food, water, whatever they need so they can survive until we can get them placed with us or someplace else.   We work with Covenant House, Jefferson Place for males, and Gateway downtown,” Westbrook said.

Covenant House Georgia provides shelter and services to Atlanta’s homeless and runaway youth, including those of all sexual orientations. They recently opened an expanded shelter site in northwest Atlanta.  More than 15,000 youth have received support from CHGA since 2000.  CHGA can be reached at 404-589-0163.

 

Jefferson Place at Martin Luther King Boulevard is one of the largest shelters serving only men.  It provides night shelter for 125 adult homeless males, and its transition housing offers structured living for fifty adult homeless males.

Gateway Center located at 275 Pryor Street is a keystone project of the Regional Commission on Homelessness’s effort to impact chronic homelessness.  As previously reported by APN, it is not an emergency shelter, but is designed to serve as the “gateway” to other community services that are intended to help people move out of homelessness.

(END/2013)

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