Toshio Meronek

A New Place for Queer Homeless Youth in Atlanta

Filed By Toshio Meronek | December 21, 2011 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Atlanta, Georgia, LGBT homeless, LGBT youth, Rick Westbrook, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence

saint-lost-found.jpgRick Westbrook and his Atlantan Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are helping some queer youths facing a problem that affects the LGBTQ community more than almost any other segment of the population: homelessness. In under two months, their project has gone from idea, to phone hotline, to actual six-bedroom shelter (dubbed Saint Lost and Found), housing kids with just about nowhere else to go.

One 16-year old youth was kicked out of his northern Georgia home by his own mom.

"When all of his couch surfing opportunities had expired, he went to local police to ask for help. They called his mother to come pick him up, to which she replied that she did not want 'that fag' in her house. The police explained that she was legally responsible and could be arrested if she didn't pick the kid up. She came and got the youth, locked him in an unfinished basement for 24 hours with no bathroom and a Pop-Tart for food. He found us through the internet and contacted us at 4 a.m."

Every kid's story is different, but they all share one thing in common: the experience of oppression based on their gender and/or sexuality. Rick (a.k.a. Sister Rapture Divine Cox) explained the organization's mission, and how the rest of us can help.

Interview after the break.

In one sentence, describe Saint Lost and Found.

Saint Lost and Found is the only organization in the metro Atlanta area that finds safety and shelter for Atlanta's homeless LGBT youth.

Tell me about how the kids came to Saint Lost and Found.

The kids found us through word of mouth about the hotline, the tremendous amount of local press, and even started showing up at events sponsored by the Sisters.

How did you get involved with the project?

I do community outreach for MISTER, which provides a comprehensive range of services for the gay and bisexual male in metro Atlanta. Part of my demographic is homeless queer youth. I find homeless youth on the streets and in some shelters and try to connect them with the services we offer such as HIV/STD testing and safe sex counseling. Through my outreach, I found them in abundance and realized that there were no programs to help get them off the street.

I am also a member of the Atlanta Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. One of our missions is community and social activism. When I discussed this with my other Sisters, they all agreed unanimously to help assist. After brainstorming with other activists and Sisters, we launched the Saint Lost & Found hotline and fund to address the current problem.

Do you think it's important that queer youth have their own, separate space like this?

I grew up here in the Bible Belt and can tell you that yes - they need a place that is separate and their own. It gives them a chance to be around peers and grow themselves and as a family. They also create bonds and friendships to make it through these formidable times.

Do you think Atlanta is a relatively supportive city for queer homeless youth to go to?

Atlanta has one of the largest general homeless populations in the country. The city has grown a lot since I came out and just like everywhere else still has a lot of maturing to do. I can tell you that as an activist, when light was shone on this issue our organizers recognized a need in the community and we were moved to get active around that need.

At first, we housed the youth in an extended stay hotel thanks a generous offer by the hotel's owner. Due to the overwhelming need, we have expanded to include a youth home with a mental health professional living on site, all within the six week launch of this initiative.

Saint Lost and Found accepts tax-deductible cash donations, gently-used clothing, furniture, linens, accessories, and household items. More on that here.

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