ATLANTA — Most who venture into Atlanta’s Lost n Found thrift store don’t see what’s happening on the side. It's a weekly session to provide foundation.
“This particular program is called 'You Belong Here,'” said Sherry Meltz, who serves on the board of Lost n Found Youth. “And why do you belong here? Because we want you here.”
The money made at the thrift store goes to the services for the youth in the program. All are members of the LGBTQ+ community and they've all needed shelter at one time or another.
“It’s miraculous what they’ve come through and how far they’ve come," said Meltz.
LGBTQ+ individuals make up 7% of America. Depending on the study, they make up anywhere from 20% to 40% of America’s homeless youth. And when that happens, homelessness becomes the wrong kind of foundation for any number of issues.
“Being queer, it’s like you can’t even sit with a group of homeless people and feel like you have some sort of home within them," Leo Edwards said. "It’s just like, ‘I’m alone. Don’t talk to anybody. They might hurt you.'"
“By the time I had my first daughter," said Harley Painter, "I was 19 years old, and I was a sex worker on the streets. It made me lose my children because I chose the drugs and the streets instead of being sober.”
Painter identifies as pansexual. Leo refers to himself as queer.
They are part of the Lost N Found Youth program, which strives to build a community.
“I don’t have family. And the only family that I do have is here," Painter said.
With the support of the program, Painter is now a barista. They occasionally get to see their children and are on the road to one day reuniting.
Edwards says he’s found stability for the first time since first becoming homeless ten years ago. It has taken virtually every service Lost n Found provides to get him to this point.
“They have our acceptance," Meltz said. "We’re going to make sure that nobody interferes with their sense of self."