Frus­tra­tion mounts for Lost-N-Found Youth

GA Voice - - Georgia News -

Rick West­brook was driv­ing back to Mid­town At­lanta from the Cobb County Adult De­ten­tion Cen­ter one Fri­day morn­ing in June. He was vis­it­ing the mother of a youth who is a client of Lost-N-Found Youth (LNFY), the LGBT home­less youth or­ga­ni­za­tion for which he serves as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. And then he heard the news—the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down same­sex mar­riage bans na­tion­wide.

He had to pull over to the side of the road be­cause he was so over­joyed by the news. But then it hit him.

“I re­al­ized that it’s prob­a­bly go­ing to cause a back­lash for our kids,” West­brook says. “And sure as shit, within the next month we went from 75 kids a month in the drop-in cen­ter to 300.”

That de­ci­sion, cou­pled with Cait­lyn Jen­ner com­ing out as a trans­gen­der woman in April, led to a surge in LGBT youth com­ing out, a back­lash, and then a num­ber of kids get­ting kicked out of their homes. It couldn’t have come at a worse time, as the or­ga­ni­za­tion con­tin­ues to work with the city on get­ting per­mits ap­proved for its fu­ture shel­ter in Mid­town At­lanta.

When LNFY an­nounced plans for the new fa­cil­ity last Fe­bru­ary, it had expectations of open­ing by that Novem­ber. Flash-for­ward a year af­ter that hoped-for open­ing and the fa­cil­ity, which will hold three times as many beds as the cur­rent shel­ter in the West End, plus add of­fice space and a new drop-in cen­ter, re­mains empty. The group is hold­ing off on all ma­jor fundrais­ing ef­forts un­til the per­mits are ap-


proved, and the frus­tra­tion is start­ing to show.

‘Any time you deal with the gov­ern­ment it’s not easy’

It’s a damp, chilly Satur­day night in Novem­ber in Ans­ley Square Shop­ping Cen­ter and West­brook is home­less. It’s just for the week­end, though, as he takes part in LNFY’s an­nual 48 Hours of Home­less­ness Vigil, liv­ing on the street for the es­ti­mated amount of time it takes for the group to reach home­less youth be­fore they en­gage in high risk and/or crim­i­nal be­hav­ior.

Staff mem­bers and supporters drop by through­out the week­end to visit West­brook, take him food and drop off clothes, gift cards and do­na­tions at the LNFY truck parked in front of Brush­strokes. The vigil will end up gen­er­at­ing $10,000 in gift cards and do­na­tions, the group’s best haul yet, but West­brook says the ex­po­sure and re­mind­ing peo­ple about that 48-hour win­dow is even more valu­able.

“Peo­ple have come by to make sure I’m taken care of and peo­ple are al­ways look­ing in when I’m sleep­ing to make sure I’m safe,” he says with a hoodie drawn tight around his face. “That’s just me be­ing an old queen and know­ing a lot of peo­ple, but our kids don’t have that.”

West­brook is at a loss to ex­plain why the per­mit­ting process has taken so long in or­der to en­act the plans that will serve those kids. He says mi­nor changes re­main to be made here and there, but that each time the group re­sub­mits the plans with the agreed-upon ver­biage, new changes are re­quested and the process con­tin­ues.

“I wish there was a speed­ier way to do it,” he says. “This has taken longer than I would have liked for it to. And for peo­ple that know me, I’m play­ing very very nice. But I’m get­ting at the end of my rope, plain and sim­ple.”

West­brook en­listed the help of and makes a point of rec­og­niz­ing the ef­forts of At­lanta City Coun­cilmem­bers Kwan­zaa Hall, Mary Nor­wood and Alex Wan, and says that Michael Nagy, in­terim zon­ing man­ager of the city’s Of­fice of Build­ings, gave him his per­sonal cell­phone num­ber. Nagy did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment by press time.

“The peo­ple that I work with at the city are all very un­der­stand­ing. I’m sure there are things that they have to ad­here to. The cus­tomer ser­vice is there but it definitely needs to be ex­pe­dited,” West­brook says. “It’s frus­trat­ing and we deal with the same peo­ple each time we go in. It may be that they’re over­worked and just missed some­thing. Any time you deal with the gov­ern­ment it’s not easy.”

Lost-N-Found Youth’s 2015 State of At­lanta LGBTQ Home­less Youth re­port shows a spike in calls to its cri­sis hot­line af­ter Cait­lyn Jen­ner came out in April and the U.S. Supreme Court struck down same-sex mar­riage bans na­tion­wide in June. (Via Lost-N-Found Youth)

Lost-N-Found Youth ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Rick West­brook (cen­ter, in hoodie) speaks to supporters at the group’s 48 Hours of Home­less­ness Vigil. (Photo by Pa­trick Saunders)

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