One LGBT young per­son at a time

Lost-N-Found Youth take mission to streets of At­lanta

GA Voice - - We Went There - By DYANA BAGBY

We walk up to him on a balmy Fri­day evening in down­town At­lanta, near The Shep­herd’s Inn, a pro­gram of the At­lanta Union Mission. Wear­ing a T-shirt, black jeans and scuffed sneak­ers, with his hair in twists, he greets the group of us with a warm grin. But he has bad news.

He was re­cently kicked out of Covenant House, a Chris­tian-run shel­ter for home­less young peo­ple, he tells Kaitlin Com­miskey, an out­reach vol­un­teer for Lost-N-Found Youth, a non­profit work­ing to help home­less LGBT youth get off the streets and into sta­ble hous­ing.

The young man, age 20 (Com­miskey asked I not use his name), says he got into a fight with some­one else living at Covenant House be­cause they were steal­ing his be­long­ings, and for that he was booted from the shel­ter.

Com­miskey, 29, a speech pathol­o­gist, low­ers her heavy back­pack to the side­walk and pulls out a green bag with a draw­string. It’s filled with non­per­ish­able food, some hy­giene prod­ucts, and in­for­ma­tion on Lost-N-Found Youth.

He tells Kaitlin and the other Lost-N-Found vol­un­teer, Joan Coles, that he has a meet­ing with Covenant House ad­min­is­tra­tors to see if he can back in if he prom­ises to abide by the rules.

He’s orig­i­nally from Vir­ginia. He has an older iPhone in his pocket, but he just lis­tens to mu­sic on it, he says. He can’t record phone num­bers of any­one who might help him, so Com­miskey and Coles rus­tle up some pa­per and a pen to write them down.

Af­ter talk­ing with him a few min­utes more, it’s time to move on. He be­gins his long trek to­ward some­where, any­where, and we move along to try to lo­cate other home­less LGBT youth and of­fer any help pos­si­ble.

Com­miskey says they met this guy in the win­ter months, on the street, just walk­ing. He once dated some­one living at the Lost-N-Found home­less shel­ter, but the or­ga­ni­za­tion lost track of him sev­eral weeks ago. Com­miskey says she is glad he has a meet­ing with Covenant House. She scrib­bles some notes in a small note­book.

Down­town out­reach

Lost-N-Found is cur­rently the only or­ga­ni­za­tion in metro At­lanta pro­vid­ing emer­gency shel­ter to home­less LGBT youth ages 18–25. A shel­ter with ap­prox­i­mately six beds is in the West End, but there is a con­stant wait­ing list. Plans are un­der­way to ren­o­vate a Vic­to­rian house on Ju­niper Street in Mid­town that will have 18 beds and a more cen­tral lo­ca­tion to serve clients.

It is at this house on Ju­niper Street where I meet Com­miskey, 29, and Coles, 25, the two pri­mary street out­reach vol­un­teers for LostN-Found Youth. Join­ing them, be­sides me, is Bran­don At­tell, 25, a Ph.D. stu­dent at Ge­or­gia State Uni­ver­sity who is par­tic­i­pat­ing in a pro­gram to count At­lanta’s home­less youth.

From Ju­niper we make our way to Peachtree Street and then to the Metro At­lanta Task Force for the Home­less, known more com­monly as Peachtree and Pine. Com­miskey looks for a par­tic­u­lar group of LGBT young peo­ple. She has seen them there in the past, but had heard at least one was kicked out of the shel­ter for wear­ing her hair too long. Trans women are not al­lowed to stay at Peachtree & Pine un­less they ditch all fem­i­nine clothes, hair and makeup and present only as male.

We hike up and down the crowded side­walk where men, and a few women, stand, many of them smok­ing. The gut­ters are filled with empty mini bot­tles of all kinds of booze. There is loud laugh­ing and talk­ing. We step in­side an open area of the home­less shel­ter and Com­miskey asks to post a Lost-N-Found card on a bul­letin board. The guard agrees with a nod.

An­other se­cu­rity guard wear­ing a badge around his neck stops us and asks about the hot­line. He knew a per­son who needed LostN-Found’s help, and wanted to make sure their 24/7 hot­line was up and run­ning. He’s told it is, and to keep call­ing, or even to text, if he doesn’t get an an­swer im­me­di­ately.

Mak­ing our way to Woodruff Park

Af­ter we leave Peachtree and Pine, we head over to the Sal­va­tion Army home­less shel­ter on Luckie Street. This is when we meet up with the 20-year-old man hop­ing to be ac­cepted back into Covenant House. At the Sal­va­tion Army, also Chris­tian, Com­miskey asks a man sit­ting at a desk if there are any young peo­ple stay­ing there that she could speak to. A woman comes over to ad­dress our group. Peo­ple walk in through a metal de­tec­tor that ap­pears not to be work­ing; oth­ers sit out­side in the heat on a large pa­tio. A thin stray black cat ma­neu­vers among peo­ple’s legs.

No, there aren’t any young peo­ple in their teens or early 20s stay­ing there right now, the two ad­min­is­tra­tors tell us. They keep sev­eral Lost-N-Found cards with phone num­bers and other in­for­ma­tion.

From there, we head to Cen­ten­nial Park. The smell of beef wafts from a high-end restau­rant just a block down the street from the Sal­va­tion Army home­less shel­ter. We make our way past the Ge­or­gia Aquar­ium, the Na­tional Cen­ter for Civil & Hu­man Rights and the World of Coca-Cola. A pho­tog­ra­pher snaps pho­tos of a happy cou­ple as we make our way into Cen­ten­nial Park.

The park is filled with happy chil­dren play­ing in the Foun­tain of Springs, and fam­i­lies and cou­ples en­joy­ing the sunny weather. A quick look around and we move on to Woodruff Park.

The park is crowded with peo­ple and Com­miskey quickly spots a young woman and a child she’s seen be­fore and hands them a bot­tle of wa­ter. Min­utes later, a trans woman ap­proaches and asks for a bag of food and other items. She talks with Com­miskey, Coles and At­tell. She wears tight jeans, dirty socks and black, toe­less san­dals, per­haps the kind you’d wear in the shower. Her fake eye­lashes are thick, her hair pulled back into a limp bun. Her eyes are tired. She is 18.

She is with an­other trans woman, age 22, on crutches, and a young man, 20. Com­miskey knows the two women and says she al­ways sees them to­gether. This is her first time meet­ing the young man. They all get bags and bot­tled wa­ter. They say “thank you” and smile.

Com­miskey says for trans peo­ple living on the street, es­pe­cially, “life is def­i­nitely com­pli­cated.”

At Lost-N-Found, how­ever, trans youth are read­ily helped and housed—when there is room.

“I thought this would be a good way to meet the kids we are serv­ing,” Com­miskey says when asked why she be­gan vol­un­teer­ing one year ago. She scrib­bles more notes in her note­book.

She and other vol­un­teers will hit the streets again in less than 24 hours.

Bran­don At­tell (far left), Kaitlin Com­miskey and Joan Coles of Lost-N-Found Youth talk to a home­less LGBT youth at Woodruff Park dur­ing a re­cent out­reach ef­fort. (Photo by Dyana Bagby)

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