Young, gay and thrown away

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.

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.

And while Lopez won't say how she feels about her son's sexual identity, Sam's stepfather explains to anyone who asks that if they were to "look into the scriptures," they would know that homosexuality is "completely wrong," and would understand why both he and his wife are "totally against homosexuals."

About his stepson, he will only say, "He knows the difference between right and wrong. And being homosexual--he knows that is completely wrong."

In Hope House's three-bedroom quarters, just 30 minutes away from his parents' home, Sam is laughing riotously.

He's perched his long, skinny frame in front of the living-room TV, and he's watching Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. He loves this movie. He's just reached his favorite part of the film, in which the three main characters, their bus vandalized with homophobic slurs, find a bucket of purple paint and transform their vehicle into a symbol of gay pride. For the rest of film, three gay men travel across the desert in a purple bus. Sam loves it.

In the comfort and safety of this new home, Sam says he can be who he is.
He believes there's hope for him; he's at Hope House.

The Reverend Paul Tucker's eyes light up with pride as he talks about the genesis of Hope House. It wasn't long ago that homeless gay teens would visit Tucker, who's a minister at the 1,500-member Cathedral of Hope church, and tell him their stories--like the 17-year-old boy who ended up in Parkland Memorial Hospital's psychiatric ward after a drug overdose. The boy's parents had kicked him out of the house at 14 after discovering he was gay.

"He started selling his body and drugs as a means of survival, but became hooked on cocaine and overdosed," Tucker says. "They were going to release him to an adult shelter, but he was scared to death. A young, effeminate gay man in an adult shelter would have been an ultra-violent situation.

"I've had so many young people come into my office and tell me about things from verbal abuse to being hit on to actually being raped in shelters. Most of them gladly choose the street rather than be in that situation, because at least they feel they have other options on the street."

Sometimes the youths stayed with Tucker for up to six months. But after giving shelter to his third youth, he began to realize that, because he is an openly gay man, people could misinterpret his acts of kindness. It was then that he came up with the idea for Hope House.

"I looked around and saw that no one else was doing this," he says. "They were scared to death of the gay issue and the youth issue. That lie that gay people can't be trusted around young people has kept our community immobilized for years."

Tucker knew that critics would see a program such as Hope House as a disguised attempt to "recruit" impressionable, unbalanced youths into the homosexual lifestyle at an age when they were still exploring and establishing a sexual identity for themselves. And since Tucker wanted to match the youths with gay and lesbian adult "mentors" to serve as role models, the recruitment issue would be unavoidable.

But Tucker decided to brave the criticism. He brought his idea for Hope House to Cathedral of Hope's advisory board, which decided to incorporate outreach for gay youths as part of the church's mission. The church agreed to pay for most of Hope House's basic operating costs. Several congregation members with experience in youth and shelter programs also pledged to help.

The church began training mentors for the program in April 1994. Meanwhile, Tucker was "talking up" the program in the gay community. "I figured there was nothing like this around, so people would really be excited, and by far, people were," he says. Doctors, dentists, and psychotherapists called the church to volunteer their services, and others donated furniture, clothing, and other items.

The next--and most crucial--step was to find a house. It took six months, but the Hope House team found a suitable vacant home on an Oak Cliff residential street.

"We wanted to just blend in and be a part of the neighborhood," Tucker says.
Funded primarily by the gay community, the fledgling program operates today on a budget of about $100,000. Hope House has also received small grants from businesses and organizations such as Marshall Field's and the Communities Foundation.

Tucker sees the program as an important step in removing homeless gay youths from the streets and providing specially tailored counseling for those with emotional or drug-abuse problems. Hope House plans to replicate itself in other cities. But its organizers admit that before any expansion plans can be carried out, the program must prove its effectiveness--and staying power--in Dallas.

And that still remains a challenge. In the course of reporting this story--which took about two months last summer--all three of Hope House's young adult residents left the program abruptly.

While Hope House has limited residential space, it also offers community outreach programs, including counseling for underage teens who are in the process of "coming out." These youths attend weekly support group meetings and are also matched with a gay mentor or couple as role models. Hope House's case manager contacts the youths every month, and they're offered psychological services to deal with issues of isolation and rejection.

The residential part of the program, which is open to emancipated minors and young men and women who are homeless, consists of three phases--steps toward self-sufficiency. Hope House provides residents with medical, dental, and psychological care; educational and career planning; and drug and alcohol treatment, when needed.

The young adults must obey a set of rules that sound more like a boot-camp regimen than guidelines for a transitional living program.

The resident must agree to: pay rent; attend therapy sessions; make his bed and clean his room every day before leaving the house; shower daily; brush his teeth twice a day; clean up after himself; perform assigned chores; do his own laundry; obey curfew; and replace anything he breaks. The residents are not allowed to receive incoming calls between 10:30 p.m. and 8 a.m., and must sign in and out of the house.

No smoking is allowed in the house. Hope House also prohibits alcohol and drug use on or off the premises, overnight visitors, and forays to bars except on 18-and-over nights.

On the most volatile issue--sex--Hope House is particularly strict: No sexual contact is permitted in-house or with other residents, and a resident may not even be in the house unless a staff person is present. The penalty for breaking the sexual contact rule is expulsion from the residential part of the program.

The youths are allowed to live at Hope House for up to 18 months. Many residents have difficulty sticking to the guidelines, having lived by their own rules on the streets. And for youths who do stay, the constant flow of new residents disrupts their tenuous hold on stability.

"You get a phone call that someone's moving in tonight, and you haven't even met this person," McCue says. "That takes some adjustment."

The program's staff agree that, so far, what's keeping Hope House from running smoothly is the lack of an assessment period for the youths. "When the kids come to us, they need help right away," says Hope House director Bob Ivancic. "But we need to see how serious the young adult is about getting their lives together before placing them in the house. Some of the kids can't deal with the structure. They want to be out partying all night, but they're not allowed to do that in this program."

Eventually, Hope House wants to separate youths with short-term and long-term needs, Ivancic says.

Since Hope House's goal is to move the young adult from homelessness to independence, the residents are supposed to spend all their energies progressing through the three phases. During the first month, the youth undergoes screening, which includes everything from a psychological exam to a "job readiness" evaluation. Within a month, the residents are matched with a mentor, and are expected to have found part-time employment. They adhere to a 9 p.m. curfew every night.

Phase 2 begins with the resident choosing one of three tracks: finishing high school or obtaining a GED, full-time college, or full-time employment. The youths learn basic skills such as preparing a budget and keeping house. They're required to pay 10 percent of their wages to Hope House for rent and utilities, and their curfew is extended to 11 p.m. on weeknights, and 1 a.m. on weekends.

By the time the resident has reached Phase 3, he's expected to be self-supporting. In theory, Hope House follows the youth for a full year during this phase.

"The idea is for us to be less involved as the levels go up and they become more independent," Ivancic says. "We tell them, 'It's your responsibility. It's your life. We're not going to do it for you. We'll teach you how to do it, but you have to do it.'"

Scratching her bird-like head, Tammy Cherry reaches for a bag of sunflower seeds in her office one day in August and pecks them out of her hand. "I wake up early and I leave late," she says.

Just as she's getting comfortable, the phone rings. She sighs.
For Cherry, there are no typical days at the office. "A typical day would be to expect that the residents are going to have some sort of emotional issue, and you're going to have to deal with it," she says.

Suddenly, Karen emerges from a hallway near the living room. A resident for six months, Karen walks sluggishly to the phone, dials a number, and begins chit-chatting with a friend.

Cherry pauses in mid-sentence and turns to where Karen is sitting. "Can we be alone?" she asks.

Karen doesn't move.
"Now," Cherry says sternly.
"I'm moving! I'm moving!" Karen responds.

Cherry waits for her to leave, fixing her eyes on the long-faced teen. Sitting grumpily, Karen remains motionless. And then--as if summoning all her mortal energy--she stands up and drags herself back down the hallway.

Cherry turns and says, "You asked me what a typical day was, and there you have it."

The phone rings again.
When the residents first arrive, Cherry explains, they go through a honeymoon phase. They want to please everybody and play nice. But after two weeks--or two days, depending on the kid--the facade breaks down, and the real person emerges.

Karen exited her honeymoon phase about five months, three weeks, and five days ago.

And once that happens, all the problems residents had with their parents--issues related more to being young than gay--manifest themselves. Like the problems with rules and authority. And just like a parent, Cherry sits down with the residents and explains what will not be tolerated.

"Changes are real hard for them," she says. "What's more scary for them is to have change and not run from it."

Cherry tries to be patient with the kids when they first arrive. But if the resident doesn't take the program seriously, she takes to "riding them" until they get on track.

As the newest resident, Sam knows all about that. When he was unemployed, Tammy made him hunt for a job a full eight hours a day. Every morning at six, she would rap on his door and say, "You got a job yet?"

Sam would say no.
"Then why aren't you up yet, honey?"
Residents' opinions of Cherry's motherly approach range from "she can be a real bitch" to "she's a fierce woman--whoa, man!" Some of her more successful tactics, she reckons, have included removing the VCR from the living room and putting residents on "Nintendo probation." It works 90 percent of the time, she says.

Unfortunately, the 10 percent she can't account for has to do with personality clashes among the residents. You get the feeling these youths would never have chosen to be together, and any hope of "bonding" appears futile. "It's just not going to happen," Cherry says. "They clash more than they bond."

Cherry often recalls those precious first moments when a new resident arrives. She sees a kid who's had no food or shelter, whose clothes are soiled with dirt. "When they walk in that door, the first thing they see is the kitchen, and they say, 'Can I eat?' And I say, 'Yes.' And then they open the refrigerator and say, 'Oh my god--I can eat anything I want?' And I say, 'Yes.' And they say, 'Anytime I want?' And I say, 'Yes.'"

She pauses a moment. "It breaks my heart for about the first 24 hours. And it never fails. Every kid that comes in here is like that."

Suddenly, blaring rock music fills the air. It's coming from Karen's room. A bit startled, Cherry says, "Someone needs attention."

There's a little girl inside Karen, but you'd never know it at first. A petite 19-year-old with red hair, Karen possesses a brat's confidence. On the outside, she seems rock-hard, a loner, but in unguarded moments she's playful and even giggly--all she needs is your undivided attention.

But she does have a tendency to be frank. "They tell me I have an attitude problem, and yes, I do. Proud of it, too," she says. "Hey--I know what's wrong with me, and I like it."

Karen loves sports, especially softball. But most of all, she loves movies. And she's not afraid to tell anyone who's listening that her favorite movie is Tank Girl. "Especially the scene where this guy is hitting on this girl in an elevator, and Tank Girl steps between them and kisses the girl," she says. "I didn't expect this out of the movie. That's my inner personality. That's what I'd love to do. I even used to say I wish life could be like a comic."

But Karen's life has been anything but. She claims she ran away from an abusive household in Plano at 17, and lived like a nomad for two years before finding Hope House. Her lowest point, she says, was having to sleep on the roof of a Plano McDonald's.

At age nine, Karen says she told her parents she was attracted to other girls. They were indifferent. "I've heard that that's one of a parent's denial mechanisms," she says. "They probably thought it was a phase."

Karen would eventually run away. She discovered later that the couple she'd called her "parents" were actually her aunt and uncle. (Karen's relatives could not be reached to tell their side of the story.)

While Karen was staying temporarily with friends in Oak Lawn, wondering where to go next, one of her roommates walked in with a copy of Cathedral of Hope's newsletter. In it was an article about Hope House, explaining that the program had one vacancy.

One phone call and one interview later, it was filled. "I always knew Hope House was out there somewhere even before I knew it existed," Karen says. "As a little girl, I knew there was a place out there for me."

A month after she spoke those words, however, Karen would abruptly leave Hope House to live on her own. Hope House officials wouldn't comment on the reasons for her departure, citing confidentiality rules, and Karen didn't return several phone messages left at her job.

Hope House live-in counselor Mark McCue is an atheist, and proud of it. He believes mankind has too much faith in churches, and not enough in people. Don't ask him to pray.

McCue was honest about his beliefs when he talked to Bob Ivancic and Tammy Cherry about being on the Hope House staff. Soft-spoken and flip, McCue, 28, got involved with the program after answering a classified ad in a gay newspaper.

"When I found out what Hope House was, I thought, 'Oh my god, just think of the people who'll think that we're turning all these little children into homosexuals and lesbians, and we have our little secret house, and we're brainwashing them into being little queers and dykes.'

"It's amazing," McCue adds. "Texas is always the wrong color in those little colored charts that you see in magazines--for the largest percentage of people who believe that homosexuals shouldn't join the military. In every poll, we're on the wrong end of the scale!"

Describing himself as a "behind-the-scenes type of guy," McCue takes pride in the space he's created for himself at Hope House. Complete with its own TV, VCR, microwave, refrigerator, dining area, and elegantly styled bed, it is, as he calls it, his "sacred space," and his only compensation, outside of benefits, as a Hope House staff member.

Still, he looks forward to weekend supervisor Star Eaddy's stint as live-in counselor. After all, the residents--whom he refers to sarcastically as his "lovely children"--can drive him nuts. His job is to make sure that the residents, among other things, do their chores. It's a struggle at times, because the youths think that their chores are "the godawful end of the world."

McCue tries to explain to the residents that someone is extending a hand to them, and they should be respectful by doing what is asked. "It's not any monumental task," he says. "It's not like we're asking the kids to maim themselves with a broom!"

Sam remembers his 16th birthday vividly, and it wasn't sweet. His mother approached him in his room and asked him flat-out, "Are you gay?"

Five years later at Hope House, Sam, a motor-mouthed, seemingly naive young man, wonders how she knew. It's true he hadn't dated any girls yet at 16. But probably the biggest clue was the constant flow of phone calls from men, especially the one who left a message saying, "Hey sweetheart! How ya doing? I love you."

These days, Sam doesn't conceal his sexual identity. Magazine ads of Giorgio Armani models and young men in statuesque poses line the walls. One looks like the Statue of David in Versace underwear. The only woman on his walls is Madonna.

Sam didn't act on his feelings toward men until his family moved to Texas when he was in his early teens. It was here that he began going to gay bars. He'd met women who were attracted to him, but couldn't bring himself to fake being straight.

"I couldn't stop the feelings," he says. "It was like, 'I'm still a good person, and if that's the only thing that stands in your way of getting to know me and love me, then I can't do anything about it.'"

Sam ran away at 16, wandering from place to place, working odd jobs, and staying with friends or roommates. After several "horrible" living situations--one of his roommates was schizophrenic--he found himself on the go again, without a home.

He went to the Cathedral of Hope after reading about Hope House in a gay newspaper. When he arrived, however, the church had started the mentor program but hadn't acquired the house yet. After staying temporarily with several different people, including Ivancic, he eventually became one of Hope House's first batch of residents.

But, he explains, he hadn't "wisened up yet," and didn't get to stay long.
"I used to go out and do all kinds of things, you know, party all night long, and I wouldn't go to school," Sam says. "I was, like, stupid."

Several times, Sam returned home to stay with his family, but it never worked out for long because he and his mother would always argue about being gay.

Nonetheless, Sam's mother tracks him wherever he goes. Sam says she's told him she doesn't want him on the streets, yet living in her home won't be possible until he renounces his homosexuality. Sam says he's sorry to disappoint her, but "That's just not going to happen, and I don't think she realizes it." He's also explained to her that she can't buy his straightness, either, but if she wants to send him money, that's fine, because he says he could use it. "I need a beeper," he says.

Sam returned to Hope House in July, and was received with open arms. Since then, his life has begun taking some shape, he says. Just last night, he talked to his mother on the phone. And what began as chit-chat about his upcoming jury duty became a sign of hope. For while Sam's mother does not agree with her son's lifestyle, she told him that if he's doing what's best for him, then she's behind him.

"I was so shocked, because she's never talked to me that way before," he says. It was one of the first conversations they'd had in years, he adds, in which they weren't arguing.

But just a month later, Sam was gone again from Hope House.

At first glance, Luke appears to be organized. His brown hair is neatly sculpted into waves, his tan shorts are pressed, his Polo socks are at just the right height.

Clean-shaven and polite, he comes off as a typical small-town boy, who, through no choice of his own, found himself thrown into big-city life after telling his grandparents he was gay. But it's OK, he says, because he still has everything under control--"and so forth." Luke makes good first impressions.

But behind his preppy clothes and disarming grin, Luke is confused. "I'm outgoing, goal-oriented, and I know what I'm going to be doing next year at this time," he says matter-of-factly. But for such an outgoing person, he hasn't made many friends in the Hope House program.

Of Luke, Karen will only say, "I have a hatred for that guy. And I mean hatred." Even Luke's mentor Doug, who asked that his last name not be printed, says, "A lot of things are basically The World According to Luke."

According to Luke, his grandparents are wealthy entrepreneurs who frequently come from Tyler to shop at Neiman Marcus.

The reality: The last time the pleasant, elderly couple made the two-hour drive from Tyler to Dallas in their 15-year-old Cadillac Seville (with no air conditioning) was some 15 years ago.

According to Luke, he doesn't work as a salesman at Marshall Field's, but has an "office in the Galleria." And, Doug says, "He has a very vivid fantasy of what his upbringing was."

What is known about Luke is that he hails from Tyler. After his parents divorced, his grandparents took custody and raised him since he was a year old. He has never trusted his grandparents, describing his home environment as "just a place to stay," and trusted his parents even less. Earlier this year, he tried suing his father for back child support.

When he came out to his grandparents last April at the age of 19, his grandparents didn't know how to handle it. They started washing his clothes separately and using different sets of pots and silverware to fix his meals, he says. His mother cussed him out.

"My grandparents came to me one day and said, 'If you tell us you're straight, we'll believe you.' After I told them I was, it was a complete change."

It was hard on them later when they figured Luke hadn't told the truth.
Financially shut off and unable to cope with his environment, Luke called some friends in Dallas and prepared to leave Tyler. A contact of his had heard about Hope House, and referred him to it. After interviewing with Ivancic, Luke moved in a few weeks later.

Luke's isolation is eased by his mentor Doug, a man whom he can't say enough about. He's very proud of their relationship. "I miss my family, so for me it's like having a big brother," Luke says. They talk on the phone, go places, and just "shoot the bull."

In their one-on-one discussions, Luke tells Doug a lot of things. Right now, he's struggling with issues about his sexuality and family. "I started second-guessing my sexuality," he says. "Just this particular time of my life that I'm in is frightening."

The phone rings. It's Doug.
There are a few things Luke doesn't tell his confidant this time, however. Like that he's in the process of packing every stitch of clothing he owns to go back to live with his grandparents. All he's told anyone is that he's taking a "four-day family trip." He also doesn't mention that he's begun having sexual relations with another resident.

And within a few days, after a four-month stay, there is a vacancy in Luke's room.

Doug had figured something was going on with Luke. "He became real distanced for about three weeks, and he kept saying, 'I think I'm straight, I think I'm straight,'" Doug says.

"But it's all a front for his grandparents, so he can make them happy and have everything he wants. They know he's gay. Every time his grandmother would talk to him, she would ask, 'Luke, are you gay?' And he would say, 'Grandmother, I just don't want to talk about it right now.'"

For Doug, the mentor, there is no ambiguity about Luke's sexuality--he is gay. And the sooner Luke gets used to that fact, the better.

"I told him, 'Luke, whether you're straight or not, you're gonna have a very unhappy life until you come to grips that you are gay.' And I realize that takes years to do," Doug says.

The mentor program is perhaps the most controversial element of Hope House. For young adults raised to believe that homosexuality is morally wrong, the mentors seek to provide living proof that an individual can be gay and live a full and productive life.

The staff was aware early on that any improprieties by gay adults working with the youth could bring condemnation on the gay community, and destroy funding for Hope House. "We told prospective mentors upfront that we wanted this to be the squeakiest-clean program that ever existed," Paul Tucker says. "We told them if there's anything about you that may cause a problem, don't do this."

Indeed, the staff has set in place strict mentor guidelines. To qualify for training, a prospective mentor cannot have any felony convictions, any alcohol or drug convictions within the last five years, any criminal charges involving children or youths, and cannot be "presently engaged in alcohol or drug use," according to the volunteer mentor's application.

That application also says, "Do not apply to be a mentor at Hope House if you're not comfortable being a healthy, mature, and 'out' gay or lesbian role model to the extent your situation allows."

Hope House says it runs police background checks on all applicants.
If selected, the prospective mentor undergoes four two-hour training sessions in which he or she learns communication skills, how to set up boundaries, how to handle crises, and what types of relationships are appropriate with the youths.

"A lot of them get attached to or get a crush on their mentor," Doug says. "You have to make sure that doesn't happen. One of my concerns was that my friends would think this is someone I'm dating."

Ivancic warns the mentors to be both patient and careful when working with the youths. Many are not used to having someone genuinely care for them, and may try to sabotage the relationship. "Be aware that they can manipulate," he says. "They can bold-face lie to get what they want."

Since the earliest days of Hope House, director Bob Ivancic has donated many hours of his time, trying to devise funding strategies, and seeking ways to make the program palatable to the public.

Toward the end of the research for this story, Ivancic called one day, and after a bit of small talk, got straight to the point. "There are a few things I'd rather not see in print," he said.

There had been sexual contact between two Hope House residents--Sam and Luke--and Ivancic was, understandably, concerned about how this would reflect upon the program.

When such a major rule break occurs, he said, residents may be allowed to stay involved on the non-residential side of the program, with access to support groups, mentors, and therapy, or they may be told to break their ties with Hope House entirely. Since the rule against sexual contact was a major violation of the residential agreements, both left the program. Ivancic wouldn't say whether the young men had been told to leave or did so voluntarily.

"If it is not a situation where their staying would impede the progress of another resident, they can stay," Ivancic explains. "But it's important to understand the type of kids we're dealing with."

Indeed, among youths who are looking for acceptance and affection, such relationships are not uncommon, and are a reality of programs that provide services--especially residential.

It's easy to see why Hope House's staff seeks to control perceptions about the program. Funding has been hard to come by since the beginning. Says Paul Tucker: "This is such a controversial issue. Many foundations just don't want to fool with it. They tend to find safer things to fund."

And at the end of summer, with all of its beds for young residents empty--soon to be filled by another crop of troubled youths--it looked like Hope House was going to face another difficult year.

Editor's note: Johnathon Briggs was a Dallas Observer summer intern. He is a senior at Stanford University.


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