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that landed on the desk had no first-hand com­plainant, mean­ing (most likely) that some un­af­fil­i­ated party acted alone and filed in the name of an­other. How else can one ex­plain that lit­er­ally no vic­tim of any al­leged crime stepped for­ward? Fur­ther, the vic­tim in ques­tion re­futed any ac­cu­sa­tions against Steve. Ac­cord­ing to Robert, Steve, and the in­ves­ti­ga­tion’s con­clu­sions from Tyler English Duma, this was a mat­ter of hearsay filed from an in­di­vid­ual who was not present at the time of the al­leged in­ci­dent. The al­le­ga­tions were made by a per­son who could pro­vide no proof to back up their claims — in­clud­ing tes­ti­mony from the “vic­tim” — as ev­i­dence. The mind bog­gles now, for there’s a strange el­e­ment at play, if I may say so as a jour­nal­ist. It ap­pears there’s a tar­get on a gen­tle­man who’s per­haps the largest con­trib­u­tor to the youth-home­less­ness non­profit. So I have to ask if Robert thinks some­one is root­ing for Lost-n-Found to fail, some­one who might aim to de­mol­ish Steve’s power as an in­flu­encer and funds-gen­er­a­tor in or­der to pull the rug from un­der the or­ga­ni­za­tion. “It’s pos­si­ble, but know­ing Steve, it’s only made him stronger,” Robert laughs be­fore get­ting pretty se­ri­ous. “Steve gives him­self heart and soul to the or­ga­ni­za­tion and has al­most sin­gle-hand­edly ar­ranged food into the drop-in cen­ter for the past year. He mo­bi­lizes his client base, he mo­bilies his friend base — he’s self­less about this!” Robert as­serts that when Steve puts out a call for items such as blan­kets or spe­cific kinds of food, those items show up. Lit­er­ally every­one I spoke to about Steve, from his sa­lon clien­tele to At­lanta denizens who know him and his work, dis­miss this as a malev­o­lent as­sas­si­na­tion of char­ac­ter. Clearly, the com­mu­nity has Steve’s back. Still, he’s wor­ried that the decades of work he’s put in will be over­shad­owed by base­less al­le­ga­tions. “I don’t know what to do — it’s al­ready [out there],” Steve tells Ge­or­gia Voice. “I don’t know if I’m go­ing to hire at­tor­neys … I just don’t know.” It’s at this point that Steve can’t speak. What comes out is choked-back sobs and at­tempts to be­gin a new sen­tence. What he can muster fi­nally: “It’s not right,” fol­lowed by apolo­gies for be­ing so upset. “I’ve never had any­thing but best in­ter­ests for any­one. This has stung me like a bul­let. What is truly aw­ful is that it could hurt Lost-n-Found.” The former em­ploy­ees al­lege they were fired for rais­ing ques­tions around the is­sue. Robert ve­he­mently de­nies this hap­pened with an em­phatic: “No!” “I be­lieve this is to­tally fab­ri­cated to harm the or­ga­ni­za­tion and to harm the per­son who does so much for it.” When asked if he has any clue who would do such a thing, he says, “What I can tell you is that the board is united in a way that it’s never been be­fore.” But has this tar­nished Steve’s rep­u­ta­tion at Lost-n-Found? Robert is adamant that noth­ing has changed. As a mat­ter of fact, sol­i­dar­ity abounds. “The board is 100 per­cent be­hind Steve. There’s no merit to the al­le­ga­tion, and Steve is hurt by this. I had to de­liver the in­for­ma­tion to him, so I know he is!” I ask him about reper­cus­sions for mis­con­duct in­side the or­ga­ni­za­tion, should they have proven true. He wastes no time: “If any­thing were found, Steve would no longer be on the board,” he says. “If any­thing was ac­tion­able, we’d take ac­tion. We’re here for the kids, not for us. We’re here for home­less peo­ple, those with­out a voice, peo­ple who sit on the curb while every­one else just walks by.” If any­one looks into the his­tory of Thriv­ing Chil­dren Gala and Lost-n-Found Youth, there would be no ques­tion. As a jour­nal­ist, I per­son­ally have spo­ken to many bene­fac­tors of their work and can vouch that these sta­ples in a much-needed ser­vice have put young peo­ple on brighter paths. But let me veer for a mo­ment, be­cause I’d like to make one thing clear: Ge­or­gia Voice has known about these al­le­ga­tions for more than a month. We de­cided not to run a story be­fore the facts be­came clear and a story was war­ranted. That out of the way, let’s set the record straight on the find­ings of the Tyler English Duma in­ves­ti­ga­tion with the fi­nal con­clu­sion that the Ge­or­gia Voice was granted per­mis­sion to view:

“There is no ev­i­dence to sup­port the

in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct al­le­ga­tions against Steve Hightower. The al­le­ga­tions are hearsay ru­mors cir­cu­lated among vary­ing par­ties over dif­fer­ent time frames. No ev­i­dence to sup­port the al­le­ga­tions, to in­clude first-hand knowl­edge, arose dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Fur­ther, the Client al­leged to have re­ported the in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior de­nied do­ing so.” There is no pend­ing lit­i­ga­tion into the mat­ter on any front. This is a set­tled mat­ter for now. Onto bet­ter news: I took an­other dive into what Lost-n-Found Youth pro­vides on a daily ba­sis, and this is in­for­ma­tion that far out­weighs the de­bunked al­le­ga­tions. Lostn-Found Youth isn’t just a food pantry. This is a mul­ti­ple-award-win­ning or­ga­ni­za­tion that gives its clients keys to a steady, healthy life, and they start with the ba­sics. Lostn-Found pro­vides those who need proper doc­u­men­ta­tion a way to ob­tain iden­ti­fi­ca­tion such as a driver’s li­cense or an of­fi­cial state ID. They pro­vide train­ing for GEDs and help them with their stud­ies, which al­lows them to get into col­lege or jobs that re­quire high- school diploma equiv­a­lents. The non­profit feeds them and sees to it that they re­ceive ac­cess to med­i­cal pro­grams they qual­ify for. HIV test­ing is an­other as­set their clients are af­forded, as is a solid con­nec­tion with men­tal-health ser­vices. Go­ing deeper, they have a fa­cil­ity that houses the most needy. Not an or­ga­ni­za­tion that’s flush with riches, they still main­tain a six-bed house, which means there are lim­i­ta­tions on shel­ter, but that’s some­thing they hope they can rem­edy with a lit­tle help from the com­mu­nity. Ac­cess to the house re­quires clients to hold down a job — a great way to give them a chance at sta­bil­ity and to (re)in­tro­duce them to the path of self-re­liance. The fa­cil­ity is open 24/7 and is con­stantly full. There’s also a youth cen­ter open 12 hours a day, and 7 days a week pro­vid­ing food, show­ers, and ser­vices. “This is what we do,” Robert says. “This is about pro­vid­ing life-sta­bi­liza­tion for the youth who need us.” Learn more about Lost-n-Found Youth at LNFY.org or give them a call at: 24/7 Youth Hot­line: 678-856-7825 Ad­min­is­tra­tive Of­fices: 678-856-7824

De­cem­ber 7, 2018

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