ATLANTA – Celia Baily’s shift at Wendy’s starts in less than an hour. She needs the shoes she left in the tent under the bridge off Cheshire Bridge Road, the tent she’s been living in for the past couple weeks. The general rule at Lost-n-Found Youth, an Atlanta-based youth drop-in center focused on the LGBTQ+ community, is that no one walks up to the bridge alone, night or day.

Tommie Johnson offers to go with her. They leave Lost-n-Found and walk up the alley, across the avenue, down to a trail that leads to a creek and then up under the bridge. There’s a cluster of tents, and clothing and other belongings are strewn about.

This is a homeless camp for a group of LGBTQ+ youth who found one another at the drop-in center.

“A lot [of our people] are coming from middle-class homes, not necessarily poor,” Ernest Walker, director of programs at Lost-n-Found, says. “They’re not coming from families that don’t have resources, they’re coming from families that can’t deal with them being gay, trans or different.”

The New York Times recently reported there have been at least 18 transgender people killed in America this year, a trend the American Medical Association referred to as an “epidemic.” Most of the people killed were transgender women of color.

Rejection – by family or peers – is one reason why many young LGBTQ+ are homeless. But it’s also the reason they seek meaningful alternatives to family.

“They are looking for that father or mother figure, looking up to staff and other people to lean on,” Walker says.

The drop-in center strives to be a safe space where youth can relax enough to make friends and develop trusting bonds. They become protective and look out for one another.

“The biggest challenge is lost trust, from being abused, neglected or leaving a foster home that just let them go,” Walker says. “I see this as creating a sense of belonging, a new sense of family.”

Marguerite Casey Foundation has commissioned this series, "America’s Family Album: Seeing the Unseen," by photographer Mike Kane. Kane is based in Seattle and his work has appeared in The New York Times, Mother Jones and The Guardian. On Instagram, he is @kaneinane. This content was posted on Oct. 2, 2019. With Equal Voice, we challenge how people think and talk about poverty in America. All original and contracted Equal Voice content – articles, photos and videos – can be reproduced for free, as long as proper credit and a link to our homepage are included. 2019 © Marguerite Casey Foundation