Lost N Found Youth could be close to finding a new home for its drop-in center, one that would be open 24 hours a day and better able to handle the more 500 visits the current center is now seeing monthly.
Rick Westbrook (bottom photo), executive director of Lost N Found, said the organization is working with Lutheran Church of the Redeemer to secure a 6,000-square-foot facility in Midtown near the non-profit’s current drop-in center that would have showers and a kitchen. Plans would be to eventually have the new drop-in center open 24 hours.
“When we started we were seeing 75 visits a month,” Westbrook said. “Then that jumped to 300 and with last year and all the [Donald] Trump madness, we started seeing 500-plus visits a month.”
In December, there were more than 560 unique visits to the drop-in center, he said.
Lost N Found’s current drop-in center, opened in 2014, is located in the back of the organization’s 13,000 square-foot thrift store at 2585 Chantilly Drive, off Cheshire Bridge Road. It is open seven days a week from noon to 5 p.m., providing resources for LGBTQ youth seeking respite and food as well as access to other resources, including job searches and counseling services.
“We have kids sleeping in the center all the time. We’re doing outreach to tent cities and they are popping up everywhere with our kids in them,” Westbrook said. “Even if we took up every bed in Atlanta available for the homeless, there would still be 3,000 to 6,000 people on the street.”
As the need for an expansion grew, Lost N Found leaders began searching out a solution for more space.
“And just like everything else with Lost N Found, someone in the community stepped up and said they have a space,” he said.
Lost N Found is also seeking to find two houses to provide transitional housing to duplicate what its facilities in the West End, Westbrook said.
The organization and its board are “rocking and rolling” since all “the mix up” last August, he said, when the LNF board demoted Westbrook and a board implosion led to numerous board members resigning and eventually the reinstatement of Westbrook to the top post of the organization he founded.
LNF is also working on a comprehensive strategic five-year plan with the help of a Tool Box Award from Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. The award is not a cash donation but a custom-designed package to help nonprofits in areas such as board development, financial management and human resources.
The award was given before the mass board resignation, Westbrook noted.
Finding their own home still in the works
While Lost N Found continues to find resources to serve homeless LGBTQ youth, the organization itself is waiting to have a permanent home of its own. A capital campaign to raise $1 million to renovate a 112-year-old house on Juniper Street into a shelter was dropped in September after the board shakeup and when the landlord, Saint Mark United Methodist Church, announced it was going to sell the land to a developer for a possible mixed-use development to include a parking deck.
Parking for congregants has long been an issue for the church that not only serves people in metro Atlanta but from a regional area as well and who can’t access public transportation to the church.
No developer has stepped forward yet, said Beth LaRocca-Pitts, the senior pastor at Saint Mark, but plans are to mandate the developer provide 7,000 square feet of space – the same amount included in the Juniper Street house – for Lost N Found. The space will be used as transitional housing and office space.
“We’re still looking for a developer. The developer will be required to include parking and ministry space,” LaRocca-Pitts said.
LaRocca-Pitts said she understand developers want to make as much money as possible and including a “temporary transitional housing” component into a new development is not a revenue maker. That’s where location, location, location comes into play.
“The main thing we have to offer is location,” she said of the church’s site in the heart of booming Midtown. Zoning for the plots behind the church that fronts Peachtree Street also has no height restrictions.
She promised a part of any agreement with a developer would include space for Lost N Found.
“They’re contracting with us, not Lost N Found. They will be under our control,” she said. Any developer not promising to provide the 7,000 square feet of sign will not get the land.
“If they don’t, we won’t sign a contract,” she said.
Westbrook envisioned the space as possibly being apartments for residents who will stay at the most three months as they seek a permanent home. Lost N Found board Chair Bruce Garner said he hopes the layout for the new space will be similar to the design of the three-story-home on Juniper Street.
Section 8 housing and affordable housing are commonly required in new developments, LaRocca-Pitts said, who added the church wants to ensure the new development includes a ministry component. But what the space for Lost N Found will look like is not even being discussed at this point because what kind of structure will be built in the space is unknown.
Paul Hanna, vice president and associate broker for Jones Lang LaSalle, the real estate services firm listing the site for Saint Mark, said the property could go for as high as $4 million an acre. Finding a developer willing to include a 7,000-square-foot space for temporary transitional housing should not be difficult, he said.
“No more of an issue than providing parking or money,” he said via email. “It is just part of the equation. The space needed for Lost N Found is minuscule as compared to the whole development that many have envisioned.”
Hanna said he and his company are currently speaking to developers about the one-acre plot behind the church and touting its prime location.
“This site, currently with a coveted Peachtree address, but located on the corner of Juniper and Fifth Street, is adjacent to the fast growing Juniper development corridor, and with no height restriction, is prime for an exciting redevelopment that could include retail, housing and office,” Hanna said.
“As part of any arrangement reached, the church would require a solution to its growing parking need, as well as secure space for Lost N Found,” he added.
Board development ongoing, staff grows
Since August, the LNFY board has grown to 10 members and a new Deputy Director for Operations, Nasheedah Bynes-Muhammad, was hired in October.
“We’re doing very well,” Garner said. He said the uprising by some board members in August to oust Westbrook was not “unexpected.”
“It’s a phenomenon in every life cycle of a nonprofit as it grows,” Garner said. “What we went through was the normal events of a nonprofit with that timeline squeezed down. We went through some growing pains and some didn’t understand that. The important thing for all of us is that we never skipped a beat in services.”
The 15-member board currently has 10 members – eight men, two women, all white and cisgender.
“We still need diversity on the board and we’re working on that,” Westbrook said.
Garner added he and other board members are looking for people of color and women to add to the board.
“That’s basically a shortcoming of every LGBTQ organization in the city,” Garner said. “We are trying to get people who are willing to serve and who have nonprofit experience. I look for people who have passion, not people who are building resumes.”
Garner said Lost N Found is fortunate to have Bynes-Muhammad as Deputy Director of Operations. Her background includes a year as HIV Program Supervisor at Tri-City Health Center in California where she managed millions of dollars in grant money, Garner said.
Lost N Found now has 19 full and part-time staff members, with several of those part-time staff working in the thrift store. The staff includes four department heads for Youth Center Program Coordinator, Hot Line Lead, Thrift Store Manager and Street Outreach Coordinator.
Lost N Found is also seeking federal Housing & Urban Development funding to support services it already provides, Garner said.
“I don’t want us to go after funds to create something new. I want us to go after funds to provide resources for programs we are already doing, whether it’s for housing or for the drop-in center,” he said.
[top photo by Diane Haymes]