Simone Joye comes across as a leader before you even get to know much about her.
Perhaps it's the way she talks, with authority and sincerity about everything from the signs of the Zodiac (she's an Aries) to her life's mission: keeping kids from living on the street.
"That bothers when we have 4-and-5,000 square foot homes that are empty," said Joye, 45, executive director of the nonprofit organization Young People Matter which provides a place for homeless, runaway and street youth ages 10 to 18 through its Open Hearts Youth Shelter in Lithonia near Stone Mountain.
"I want to make sure no kid has to sleep on the street in metro Atlanta," Joye said.
The shelter provides a place to turn for homeless teens who need help, a roof over their heads, beds to sleep in. YPM has other initiatives, too, such as Positive Youth Development Program, and its upcoming 48-hour "Takin' It to the Streets" public outreach to find runaway, homeless and street youth, March 30 through April 1 (click on the link if you're interested in volunteer opportunities).
The shelter is located in a well-kept home with minimal but comfortable, inviting furnishings in a quiet neighborhood.
"It's important when a kid walks through the door to see a place they want to stay. It sets the tone," Joye said.
Joye has been working in youth development for 20 years. A former journalist in Princeton, N.J. with Dow Jones/The Wall Street Journal and in Brooklyn at The City Sun, she was also CEO of a Boys and Girls Club in Newark.
She also served as a consultant to nonprofits, writing grants and getting them seed money.
Joye relocated from New Jersey to Georgia, a place she'd always wanted to move to, in 2005.
She jumped into volunteer work. People suggested she start her own organization.
YPM got started in the fall of 2007, and was incorporated that December.
Last October, it received a federal grant of more than $540,000 over a three-year-period to operate the shelter.
Often with the teens that seek YPM's help -- the most common age she sees is 17 -- there is "a communication conflict with the parents," Joye said.
Perhaps the money is no longer there to take care of a child. She also is seeing a trend where women who have lost their homes enter a shelter that doesn't take school-age children. "Usually they'll send them to another family member, but how many family members want to take teenagers?" she said.
Then there are teens who are treated as if they've been fired from the family.
"A lot of parents don't want their kids," Joye said. "It's like, you're 17, time to go."
It's a harsh, cruel attitude, but Joye has witnessed the harsh, cruel reality of teen homelessness.
"If it's hard for kids who are aging out of the system, imagine how hard it is for kids with no system," she said.
YPM does outreach work every day, using a van on loan from a car dealership to do so (Joye would like a van to be donated to the organization; the federal grant doesn't allow for buying a van. It covers things such as salaries, van leasing, the shelter lease, outreach materials, workshops).
The staff rides through DeKalb, Rockdale, and Newton counties, stops at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, MARTA stations, parks, abandoned buildings, and goes into downtown Atlanta, including Underground, looking to help teens living on the street.
"Nobody wants to let people know they're homeless," Joye said. YPM staff offer baggies of items such as microwaveable lasagna, fruit and grain bars, and juice pouches. There are also survival kits that include sample sizes of shampoo, socks, soap, toothpaste and body wash.
Twelve teens have spent at least one night in the shelter since January.
"Most of the kids, the goal is to get them back home," Joye said. "The goal is unification and putting things in place for the family to survive."