Sunday, February 16, 2014

UT - Utah group homes fight paranoia and stigmas

Mob Mentality
Original Article


By Mark Saal

MORGAN - Last summer, when Alpha Counseling & Treatment went before the city council here, seeking to put a youth group home into a residential neighborhood, you'd have thought they were asking to open a meth lab.

Mace Warren, clinical director for ACT, was seeking to house up to 12 boys in a six-bedroom home at 535 Derrick Circle. These were boys, according to Warren, exhibiting "moderate male behavioral disorder," including Asperger's syndrome, autism and other developmental disabilities.

Neighbors packed the small city council chambers, worried that the proposed home would bring violence, drugs, sex offenders and other troubles to their small community. When the city council finally -- reluctantly -- approved a conditional-use permit for the group home, tearful, angry residents in the neighborhood talked of selling their homes.

So, do they? Sell their homes, that is?

As it turns out: not usually.

There are plenty of residential group homes in Northern Utah -- some have been operating here for years. And generally, once the initial fuss dies down, neighbors are fairly accepting of group homes.

"I did worry at first, because I didn't know what to expect," said Paul Rohde, who lives next door to a group home in North Ogden. "But it was more a concern out of not knowing what it would be like."

The Rohdes have lived in their current home for seven years; the group home has been there about three. He says the residents of the group home have been no more trouble in the neighborhood than his own three children.

"They've been fine, we've had no issues," he said. "The first year they were here, they picked up all our leaves, and we've got a ton of trees. They raked our leaves again this year."

Rebecca Ostler, who lives on the other side of the group home, says the only problem she's had is that it was a bit of a disappointment to her own children.

"At first, it was kind of hard for my boys, because they saw boys there at the house and wanted to play with them," she said. But, Ostler says, the boys at the group home aren't allowed to interact with neighborhood children.

"They're kept away from the neighborhood, and have strict rules," she said. "They're friendly, they say hello, but they don't interact."

Other neighbors of this group home at 1217 E. 3100 North, in North Ogden, operated by Crossroads Academy, have similar tales to tell.

"I didn't know they were in until they were in," said neighbor Judy Howard. "But we've never had any problems with them."

A year ago, as the Howards were cleaning up following a windstorm, two young men from the house stopped by and asked, "Can we help you pick that up?"

"We've never had any cop cars there, or anything like that," Howard said. "And none of the neighbors say they've seen increased break-ins. They're very quiet, and the house is well-maintained."

And neighbor Betty King said: "They've not been any problem at all. I see them come sliding down the street on skateboard sometimes. But they're just like anybody else."

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