More funding sought to house teens rejected by polygamous community

A nonprofit group is asking the Utah Legislature for more money to support a transitional home in St. George for teens and young adults displaced from a polygamous sect in southern Utah.

Michelle Benward of New Frontiers for Families wants $315,000 in ongoing funds for what is known as The House Off Bluff Street, which currently houses nine young men who grew up in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The sect is based in the twin towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz.

Among the teens in the home: An 18-year-old whose parents dropped him off in Hurricane in November with $10 in his pocket because he was not following the sect’s rules.

Last year, the Legislature provided $95,000 to support the home, which is still awaiting zoning approval from St. George City.

With more funding, the home could replace volunteers with paid staff, Benward said, who could continue to provide life skills, educational and job assistance to the young men.

“We are addressing needs of a complex community that have gone unmet,” she said.

The home helps keep the young men off the streets and out of “Butt Huts,” where the lack of appropriate supervision and support contribute to them developing substance abuse and delinquency problems, she said.

“The biggest thing is they are coming from a cult setting with restrictive beliefs and behaviors and they don’t have the tools to make decisions,” Benward said. “We are seeing a lot of post traumatic stress disorder and inappropriate behaviors.

“The transition home offers an opportunity for them to be safe while they learn to make decisions appropriately,” she added.

Various estimates of these so-called “Lost Boys” have been given in recent years. Benward said she has had direct contact with 80 kids.

On average, about 20 show up for a weekly life skills group; each night, the home feeds about 15 people, including the nine living there.

Benward said another 15 people are living in host homes in St. George.

She said a handful of girls also are receiving support from New Frontiers for Families, including three living with host families.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday January 26, 2008.
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