Will HIV agency conflict with LNF thrift store?

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The controversial AIDS Healthcare Foundation continues to expand its footprint in Atlanta, this time with plans to open a thrift store just blocks from a popular one that funds efforts to care for homeless LGBT youth.

AHF, which “joined forces” with AID Atlanta in June, now plans to open its first Out of the Closet Thrift Store on Cheshire Bridge Road. The facility takes over a vacant building two doors down from the gay-owned Las Margaritas and a few blocks from the Lost N Found Youth Thrift Store on Chantilly Drive. 

The 6,100-square-foot facility will also include a pharmacy and offer HIV testing, according to Tomorrow's News Today, which first reported the AHF plans.

Out of the Closet, a new business which describes itself as a pharmacy and thrift store and also offers free HIV testing, is “coming soon” to Cheshire Bridge Road. The new business benefits the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and is part of a nationwide network of similar stores.  

Out of the Closet is opening at 1858 Cheshire Bridge Road, between Las Margaritas and Artlite.  A local source indicates that the 6,100 square foot building that the new shop will occupy was home to one of the first Harley-Davidson dealerships in the 1950s.  Subsequent occupants of the property have included a Napa Auto Parts for about 25 years, and more recently both a pawn shop and an auto pawn store.

AHF operates 20 thrift stores across the U.S., mostly in Florida and California where the agency is headquartered. The site on Cheshire Bridge will be its first in Georgia, though AHF already operates a pharmacy in Lithonia.

Lost N Found's thrift store, an 13,000-square-foot building that opened in 2014 to wide support in gay Atlanta, raises funds to support the non-profit, which cares for homeless LGBT youth. The facility also offers crisis support, a youth center, street outreach and is raising funds to open a shelter for homeless youth in Midtown. 

Rick Westbrook, LNF's executive director, said the agency learned of AHF plans to open its thrift store on Wednesday. He expects the board to discuss the development soon but declined to say if the AHF facility would conflict with the one operated by LNF.

A pharmacy also has the potential to compete with one AID Atlanta, AHF's new partner, opened in September 2014. The pharmacy was part of a $700,000 project that also included the Mark B. Rinder Center for Wellness. The ambitious construction effort caused financial strain on the AIDS agency as it also struggled with staffing issues as it worked to expand services beyond HIV care. Its executive director left in February, one of several high-level departures in the months surrounding the expansion.

AHF, led by controversial and litigious HIV activist Michael Weinstein, has derided PrEP as ineffective – AID Atlanta supported wide access to PrEP prior to partnering with AHF – and last month called Grindr and other sex apps diseased “digital bathhouses.”

We reached out to AHF and will update the story if the agency responds.

UPDATE | A spokesperon for AIDS Healthcare Foundation said the agency is “proud” to be expanding in Atlanta and that the thrift store isn't intended to compete with Lost N Found's exisitng operation.

“AHF is not opening this new site in order to compete with the Lost N Found Youth Thrift Store or any other service provider in the region,” said Ged Kenslea, AHF's senior director of communications. “This new all-in-one AHF site is intended to help fulfil the tremendous unmet need for HIV/AIDS and related services in greater Atlanta, and we see this facility as a complement to existing respected service organizations like LNF and other providers already serving the HIV/AIDS and LGBT communities as well as the general public.”


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