Moderated by Rick Badie

Today, the executive director of Lost-n-Found Youth — a nonprofit that serves homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered young people — talks about the group’s work and efforts to convert a Midtown building in to a homeless shelter. The other column notes the changing culture of Buckhead due to a rise in apartment dwellings proposed and under construction.

Nonprofit serves homeless gay youth

By Rick Badie

When Dustin Lance Black won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for the movie “Milk,” the LGBTQ activist addressed gay and lesbian adolescents in his acceptance speech.

“If Harvey (Milk) had not been taken from us 30 years ago,” he said, “I think he’d want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told that they are ‘less than’ by their churches, by the government or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value, and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you.”

Volunteers for Lost-n-Found Youth, a nonprofit that serves Atlanta’s homeless lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer teens, see rejection’s pain. Twice a week, its crews walk city streets, offering assistance to homeless LGBTQ teens, estimated to be about 750 in our city on any given night. Woodruff Park, Underground Atlanta, Safehaven and the Peachtree-Pine shelter are regular stops, something I experienced one recent Friday night.Kaitlin Commiskey, the crew leader, spotted two familiar 18-year-old transgendered teens at the Peachtree-Pine shelter. One left her Texas home because her family did not accept her gender identity. The other teen, an Atlantan, is unable to stay with family.

“These girls were concerned about staying with their group, including their boyfriends who are also homeless youth,” Commiskey wrote later in an email. “With a lot of youth on the street, and particularly transgendered youth, there is safety in finding a group of other kids to stay with. Going out on the street regularly allows you to really see some of what the youth are experiencing and get a sense of what their needs are.”

Founded four years ago, Lost-n-Found is the city’s sole nonprofit that works to get homeless LGBTQ youth off the streets. It operates an emergency shelter in the West End, a thrift store and a drop-in center to help kids get stable. The organization is in a $1 million fundraising campaign to renovate a house in Midtown that will replace the current shelter and increase the number of beds from six to 18.

“A lot of queer kids get robbed, beat up and raped,” said Rick Westbrook, a Lost-n-Found co-founder and its executive director. “Nationwide, we know that 40 percent of kids on the street are queer. But based on the past few years, about 52 percent of (homeless) kids here are queer, and it’s because of the Bible Belt.”

Last fall, the organization’s work and its capital campaign got a boost when it was featured in Rolling Stone magazine. It was right around that time a video clip surfaced of a gay Kennesaw teen being disowned by his family. Then 19, Daniel Ashley Pierce secretly recorded the exchange, and a friend posted it on YouTube, which garnered Daniel global emotional and financial support. (Read Daniel’s story Sunday in the AJC’s “Personal Journeys” feature.)

A GoFundMe campaign set up for Daniel raised about $93,000 before it was shuttered; Daniel requested that additional donations be sent to Lost-n-Found, which accepted about $10,000. Westbrook calls the timeliness of Daniel’s video “a godsend.”

“Miley Cyrus had sent a young homeless man to accept an award on her behalf that Sunday,” Westbrook said. “Monday, the Rolling Stone article came out, and then Daniel’s story started on Wednesday. By Friday, every phone at Lost-n-Found was ringing off the hook. Now that we get calls from all over, Atlanta is quickly becoming ground zero for the problem. Our house is always full, and we always have a wait list.”

Apartment boom is remaking Buckhead

Sam Massell

Certainly this community of 45 neighborhoods can still brag of having an abundance of beautiful estates on rolling, wooded lands, but its skyline of office buildings is fast taking on a surrounding support structure of brick-and-mortar multifamily rental units housing the jobs market for those new and expanding businesses.

Yes, with the latest three complexes announced, we now have more than 11,000 units in development — announced, under construction or renting. This is an increase approaching 90 percent over what was on hand in January 2012 when this part of the recession started turning around.

The vast majority of these apartments are within a two-mile radius of Buckhead’s “downtown” commercial core. This will generate pedestrianization, bicycling, walking and Uber and Lyft lifestyles. Millennials want this freedom to sample and change favorite dining spots daily; living quarters and job places, too.

What is being built offers a quality of life unequaled in our metro area. “Supply and demand” will motivate the powers that be to do the dress-up for comfort. Sidewalks are being built (see Peachtree between Maple and Lenox roads), transportation is being provided (such as the Buc Shuttle and MARTA’s Peach). Bicycle paths are appearing and being used more as we write.

As a former Realtor and small developer, I can safely predict not all of the proposed complexes will come out of the ground. Sadly, some will wish they had not when they do not match the amenities of their competition.

To developers, I would urge acknowledgement that about half the population is female, so welcome this market and cater to its needs. Safety is a concern, so provide security foyers and around-the-clock cameras. Noise is a downer for all serious tenants the owner should want, so address this from the beginning, both at-hand and in window orientation.I’m also a former president of the Atlanta Humane Society, so I make a plea for the pets, which are becoming even more prevalent throughout our community. Provide the runs and procedures for cleaning up after them. Plan lease restrictions that also address the issue when considering noise abatement.

No, it’s not your grandfather’s Buckhead. But don’t sell this generation short, as many in this demographic are downsizing to this appealing lifestyle. You will need to nurture their quality of life. It is true tremendous growth in population is dictating the development of rental units, but this won’t guarantee the occupancy ratio required by lenders. So don’t look lightly on competition, but strive to be the best, and you’ll fit right in with a Buckhead address.

There is no guesswork. There are 37 complexes totaling 11,391 units as of April 24, 2015.

Former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell is president of the Buckhead Coalition.

View Comments 0