FLDS 'Lost Boys' home seeks funding

Deseret Morning News/January 26, 2008

"Smith" said he was abandoned on a street in Hurricane after going to see a movie.

The 18-year-old from the Fundamentalist LDS enclaves of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., was left there when his father found out that he was there.

"He doesn't want me watching movies, I guess," said Smith, who asked the Deseret Morning News not to use his name. "I decided to move away because it wasn't worth it. It's been going on for 10 years."

The young man has been out of the polygamist communities for five weeks now. On Friday, he and about a dozen other so-called "Lost Boys" - kids who have been kicked out or run away from the FLDS Church - were meeting lawmakers and pushing for $315,000 to help the pay for a youth drop-in center in St. George. The "House Just Off Bluff," as it's called, is being run by non-profits and volunteers putting in their own blood, sweat and tears.

The home would help kids transition to a life outside of Short Creek. Advocates for these boys and girls claim there are more than 1,000 who are either kicked out, often because they commit a "sin," or run away. They sleep on the streets or crash in apartments with others like them and are often under-educated and in danger of falling prey to drugs, alcohol and exploitation.

"I have on average two kids a week that contact me that I haven't seen before," Michelle Benward, the director of New Frontiers for Families, said of the amount of kids still seeking help. "We need full funding."

The Deseret Morning News first reported on the home last year. Generous readers donated furniture to help fill it, and the kids who would be staying there helped remodel it. The home opened in October, but can't really have anyone living there because St. George city officials haven't given them the appropriate zoning.

St. George city has been in a quandary because it has strict zoning regulations designed to crack down on schools for troubled teens. It also affects the House Just Off Bluff.

"Once you make a zone change for something like that, it affects the surrounding area," said St. George City Councilwoman Gloria Shakespeare, who is hesitant about voting for a zoning change.

Benward remains optimistic.

"I'm not seeing it as a hurdle because I believe they'll do the right thing," she said.

Meanwhile, she's seeking money from state lawmakers to help keep the house going. On Friday, Benward and her kids were shaking hands and pleading their case.

"I'm all for it. There's a very tender spot in my heart," Rep. Bud Bowman, R-Cedar City, said. "I think it'll fare good because the need is there."

While they got a lot of comments of support, they did not get a lawmaker to sponsor any specific legislation. Benward said she has meetings next week to keep pushing. Some fear that because it deals with polygamy, it may face some hurdles on Utah's Capitol Hill.

At least one of the youth was excited about the trip.

"It's pretty cool. It's probably something I never would have done if I still lived in the Creek," said Hyrum, 17, who has been out of "Short Creek" for two years now. He also did not want his last name used.

Advocates say they are still seeing children leaving the FLDS communities. The group's leader, Warren Jeffs, is in prison for rape as an accomplice. He was convicted of performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. While Jeffs has resigned as president of the FLDS Church, it is unclear if he is still their religious leader.

"Warren's still in charge," said Hyrum.

"No he's not 'cause he said he's not," Smith corrected him.

"They don't listen to that. I talked to my mom and she doesn't believe that," Hyrum replied. "She says they're making it up."

"I saw the video. They didn't make it up."

"Has my mom seen the video?"

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.