Young, gay and thrown away

Hope House struggles to provide a refuge for some of society's most vulnerable people

A small red car pulls up in front of the modest Oak Cliff house, its driver watching, waiting--this time for hours. It's a scene that's happened many times--and one that puzzles some of the neighbors, who don't understand why this nondescript home is such a point of fascination for those who stop outside it and simply stare, or negotiate hour-long series of drive-bys, looking vainly for something sinister about the one-story structure.

There are rumors, of course: that the home is headquarters for a subversive "gay cult" that recruits teenagers.

Parents of some of the home's inhabitants, in fact, call the house, warning their children to stay away. Others, having discovered its confidential address, resort to drive-by surveillance missions in an effort to confirm their child's whereabouts.

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And the house is certainly unique in Dallas--though whether it's sinister is a matter of what you think about its unusual mission. The home, which had previously been vacant, opened in October 1994 as Hope House--a transitional living program for gay youths sponsored by Cathedral of Hope Metropolitan Community Church, a large local gay congregation.

Hope House's stated mission:to offer a safe, nurturing place for gay, lesbian, and bisexual young adults who are struggling with issues surrounding their sexuality--and also happen to be homeless and destitute. Some have been thrown out of their homes by parents; others are runaways.

At Hope House, the youths, who range in age from 18 to 21, are matched one-on-one with older gays and lesbians who serve as role models, helping the young men and women develop stable and productive lives.

Allowing space for three residents and a live-in counselor, Hope House was immediately welcomed by Dallas' gay community, which saw the need for a place where "throwaway" gay and lesbian young adults could find a place to get their lives on track.

But when Hope House introduced itself to its adopted Oak Cliff neighborhood, the reception was quite different.

Neighbors circulated a petition urging residents to ban the program from their community. And Hope House officials say one of the home's elderly neighbors, who'd been friendly at first, started hassling the residents about such trivial matters as how they parked their cars and what they did with their trash.

Meanwhile, during Hope House's first 10 months, all of the young residents left the program at one point or another; some left voluntarily, others were bounced out for breaking the rules. In what is supposed to be an 18-month program, the resident who stayed longest lasted only six months. And at least two of the youths went awry of perhaps the most important item on their "residential agreement" with Hope House---by having sexual contact with each other in the house.

Hope House's staff acknowledge they're still working through some problems with the program. "It looks great on paper," says Mark McCue, one of Hope House's live-in counselors. "But getting the kids in line and getting things to work like clockwork has proven to be quite difficult."

Nosy neighbors, fretful parents, restless kids--it's been a rough first year at Hope House.

It is 2:30 p.m.; the red car remains parked outside. A man sits in the driver's seat.

Inside Hope House, case manager Tammy Cherry sits in her office. Last night, an 18-year-old boy, searching for help, found his way to the Cathedral of Hope church in Oak Lawn. His situation was typical of the young adults who've ended up at Hope House: homeless, virtually penniless, having exhausted his list of friends with charitable hearts and couches to crash on.

That night, however, there was nothing Cherry could do but refer the boy to a shelter; there were no beds available at Hope House. Cherry had wanted to do more for the boy--he said he just needed enough time to get a job, earn a little money, and find an apartment. So she stayed up most of the night chasing down referrals for him.

Her tired eyes blinking, Cherry looks out the window of her office. She notices the red car across the street. It is 3:15 p.m.

An hour later, as Cherry and a resident get ready to leave Hope House for an errand, she sees the red car and its driver, still watching. As they step out the front door, the driver starts up the car and quickly pulls off.

"I suspect it's Sam's relatives," Cherry says wearily.
A few minutes later, she is on the phone with Dallas police.

Over the last five years, Linda Lopez has seen her son Sam no more than seven times. And she doesn't want to talk about their most recent visit.

What Lopez does talk about are the "in-depth psychological problems" her son has had throughout his life. Problems that have left him--as she explains it--"emotionally immature and not capable of deciding what is best for him." Problems so serious that Lopez keeps a file documenting a history of Sam's problems from the time of his birth to the "deep psychotherapy" he was under when the family lived in California six years ago.

Sam, quite naturally, recounts his "problems" from a different perspective.
After "coming out" to his mother at 16, Sam says doctors placed him on the anti-depressive drug Prozac. He says he doesn't recall being depressed at the time, but does remember he took the drug at his parents' urging. "They thought I was crazy," he says.

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