Lost Boys watch Texas raid from afar

Lost Boys watch Texas raid from afar

Deseret News/May 12, 2008

St. George - They have family members who have been separated from their parents.

Just like them.

The raid on the Fundamentalist LDS Church's YFZ Ranch in Texas has been difficult for some of the so-called "Lost Boys," teenagers who have been cast out or who ran away from the fundamentalist communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. From a distance, they are watching their families get caught up in the raid and its aftermath here in Utah.

"I don't think it's right to take all their kids away, even if it's one case of abuse if there's even that," said Simon, who was asked to leave Short Creek (the name for Hildale and Colorado City). "I really don't think there's as much abuse as they say there is. I mean, I wasn't abused."

The kids are feeling a lot of anxiety, fear and worry for their families, said Michelle Benward, the clinical director of New Frontiers for Families. She runs the "House Just Off Bluff," a drop-in center just off Bluff Street for the "Lost Boys."

"Right now, we have a community that is in incredible crisis," Benward said. "At the point of crisis, the resources should be put on the table to take care of the problem."

Using community and local church donations, a government grant and whatever money she can scrape together, Benward has helped create this home that acts as a sometime shelter for the young men. They are provided education and support transitioning from one community to another.

Since it opened last year, advocates say the home has directly helped about 100 of the estimated 1,000 cast-out teens.

All of that is now in danger if more funding isn't secured to keep the home open.

"I won't accept the bare minimum," she said in an interview with the Deseret News. "I'll have to work towards moving the kids into another situation."

Simon was barely 17 when he was asked to leave his home in Short Creek. He came home late from a movie.

"I thought I didn't get caught, and the next day my stepdad's like, 'Where were you last night"' he said. "He said, 'Promise me you won't do that any more' and I said, 'I'll probably do it again.' And I was like, 'As a matter of fact, I don't really want to go to church or priesthood meeting anymore.'"

He was told to move out. Simon's mother arranged for him to stay with a brother. After a few years of moving around, Simon wound up at the House Just Off Bluff, where he has stayed for about nine months. Simon, now 21, just graduated with his high-school-equivalent GED and has a construction job in Escalante.

"I wish something like this had been around when I got out to help me make the transition," said Matt Bauer, who dropped out of the Alta Academy near Salt Lake City, where former FLDS leader Warren Jeffs was principal.

Now 28, he is acting as a "house daddy" while he goes to college. He keeps the young men on track with chores and homework. They live in this modest white home with numerous bedrooms, two kitchens and most importantly, a structured environment.

Advocates say that when teens leave the fundamentalist towns, they have trouble transitioning from one culture to another. Some wind up living on the streets, some get involved in drugs or crime.

The House Just Off Bluff was created to help stop that problem. The home was bought by an anonymous donor. The kids put in the labor to remodel the home, the supplies were made possible through generous community donations from stores, churches and community groups. After a story about the home appeared in the Deseret News last year, it was flooded with furniture.

The teens who stay at the house are put in school, taught life skills and given family support and therapy services.

"You've gotta love them. They're just kids, they're just teenagers," Bauer said.

Teenagers continue to leave the FLDS communities, but the reasons are changing.

"There's not as many getting booted under the direction of their leaders," Benward said.

It used to be that they were ousted for committing a "sin," such as kissing a girl, wearing a short-sleeved shirt or going to a movie. Others left rather than adhere to the FLDS Church's rigid structures.

Now, some parents are willing to help ensure their child isn't just abandoned.

"We have a 15-year-old who is here now with the permission of his parents, because they weren't able to manage him in Colorado City," Benward said. "I think they're leaving for different reasons. I think they're leaving because their community doesn't have the solutions it needs to take care of their kids, especially teenagers."

A state grant through the Utah Department of Community and Culture helped fund the home last year. The Diversity Foundation, set up by ex-FLDS member Dan Fischer to help the "Lost Boys," kicks in some more funding. Other money is scraped together.

"They have identified a very unique need, and they are very passionate about it and are doing great work," said Lloyd Pendleton, the director of the homeless task force for the Utah Department of Community and Culture.

He acknowledged the problems of the "Lost Boys" have been largely ignored for years. Another year's worth of state funding for the House Just Off Bluff is pending approval from the state. The state's homeless coordinating committee is scheduled to decide funding on Wednesday.

Benward has 11 staffers, some volunteer, but she said the amount they can work is limited.

"I cannot get qualified staff to donate all of their time. I cannot train the staff to respond appropriately to this group on 25 hours a week," she said, adding that she works 120 hour weeks most of it unpaid.

A disruption in funding could affect teens in school and making transitions. As she spoke to the Deseret News, she was gathering up a group of young men to celebrate graduating with their GEDs.

"This is not a problem that's going to go on forever and ever," Benward said. "At some point, their community (Hildale and Colorado City) is going to have the power they need to take care of their own."

Bauer has family in Texas and disagrees with how authorities there have handled the situation. He said community outreach solutions like the House Just Off Bluff will help take care of any abuses within the community.

"The way that Texas went about doing that is the wrong way," Bauer said. "I really think these programs that we're doing, trying to open communication with this group that's going to be the key."

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