Rick Westrook remembers the day he tried to find a place in Atlanta for a homeless teenager to stay overnight. He'll never forget being turned away by homeless shelters.
Westbrook and two other gay activists took matters into their own hands.
In 2011, they created a grassroots organization to shelter LGBTQ kids.
The organization, called Lost-N-Found, now includes a drop-in center to assist kids with clothing, hot meals, hygiene and other supplies, and to provide referrals for housing, jobs, education and other services.
It also runs a thrift store to raise funds. The store provides clothing for homeless youth and offers them job training.
Westbrook, the executive director of Lost-N-Found, has been active in LGBTQ causes for more than 15 years.
He founded the Atlanta branch of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an advocacy group that originated in San Francisco in the 1970s. It uses irreverent wit to expose homophobia and to celebrate the spirit of its members.
“Sisters” in Atlanta stepped forward to help create Lost-N-Found, bringing their flair and unique style to the mix.
They began by putting kids up in a hotel. Then they rented a house. It was meant to be only for three to five nights until other social service agencies could help the teens. But it was difficult to get help from agencies and it took time, Westbrook said. As a result, Lost-N-Found became a 90-day program.
Sixty percent of the youth served are lesbians, he said.
Based on a survey done by Lost-N-Found, he believes about 30 percent of them are kids who were in foster care.
“We’re best at helping those who haven’t been on the streets that long,” he said.
“They face such abuse.”
A monthly Atlanta fundraiser for the organization is the Big Gay Game Show, which features spoofs on television game shows such as Let's Make a Deal and the Newlywed Game.
Lost-N-Found was named Humanitarian of the Year by the local branch of the Human Rights Campaign.