By Dyana Bagby
Four years ago, a group of activists saw a dire need to help homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth get off the streets of Atlanta and into safe spaces. Lost-N-Found Youth was formed and nearly 1,000 youth have been helped to get jobs and into their own homes since that time.
And while the June 26 Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage would indicate a growing acceptance of LGBT people across the nation, Rick Westbrook, the executive director of Lost-N-Found, says the need to help homeless young people has actually grown significantly in the city.
“We went from seeing 75 kids a month in our drop-in center to 300 a month,” Westbrook said. “Our phone rings off the hook.”
The reason? “Backlash,” Westbrook said.
TV shows that chronicle the experiences of transgender people, such as “I Am Caitlyn,” and the Supreme Court decision led young people to believe it was safe for them to come out to their parents, Westbrook said. Instead, parents promptly threw their kids out of their homes, leaving teens and young adults to have to fend for themselves.
“We have transgender kids coming out of the woodwork. I knew it was going to be bad, but I didn’t realize it was going to be this much,” he said.
Parents kicking youth out of the home for coming out is the largest reason for homelessness among LGBT youth. National studies show that up to 40 percent of homeless youth are LGBT compared to up to 10 percent for non-LGBT youth.
In Atlanta, Westbrook estimates there is approximately 750 homeless LGBT youth spending the night on the streets.
“I would love to retire. But this problem isn’t going to get any better. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. We’re in the Bible belt and there are always going to be families that follow that book and adapt it for their needs,” he said.
Lost-N-Found currently has a house in the West End with six beds for youth. The nonprofit is seeking to raise $1 million so it can open a shelter in the heart of Midtown with 18 beds. The drop-in center would also be relocated to this site from its current location on Chantilly Drive off of Cheshire Bridge Road; this site is also where the nonprofit’s thrift store is located with sales going to fund helping youth.
“We’re classified as a shelter but we are more of a home because these kids have no other family,” Westbrook says.
For more information or to make a donation, visit lnfy.org.