Residents of Hyattsville came out in numbers to a City Council meeting last week to oppose plans to move one of Prince George's County's few long-term halfway houses for teen-agers to the city. They argued that the halfway house residents would disturb their neighborhood.
Hyattsville Mayor Thomas Bass, who also sits on the council, also objected to plans for the home, saying that the house would be more appropriately located in a "transient" area.
Youth Resources Center Inc., which has operated a short-term shelter for runaway teen-agers in Hyattsville since 1972, wants to move another of its programs, a new, nine-month live-in program for youths, from Bladensburg to a house it has just bought at 4109 Queensbury Rd. Officials of the organization, who do not need city approval to open the facility, came before the council to describe their plans because of the neighborhood complaints.
The live-in program, called Starting Over, was begun last year for 16- to 18-year-olds unable to stay at home because they are abused by their parents or otherwise cannot get along with their families, officials said. The teen-agers are offered long-term guidance on finding jobs, such life skills as grocery shopping and managing bank accounts, and counseling on the basic problems of growing up and living on their own, a spokesman for the house said.
It is the first such counseling program in Prince George's, which has three other long-term houses for youth, and the second in the state, Youth Resources director Kris Mayne said.
Starting Over spokesmen said that to be admitted, teen-agers must be screened by social workers and the staff. Only those applicants who indicate that they want to make positive changes in their lives and who pass a probationary period are accepted in the long-term program, the spokesmen said.
The program is directed strictly at teen-agers from troubled homes and will not admit applicants with alcohol or drug problems, violent criminal records or histories of mental problems, they said.
"Kids cannot pick their parents," said Deborah Chaplin, clinical director of Starting Over. "Considering what some kids have been through, thank God they ran away."
A spokesman for the Prince George's Department of Juvenile Services said that about 50 teen-agers from troubled homes in the county are currently in the care of the department, with 34 of the young people placed in foster and group homes outside the county.
Only eight teen-agers are in group homes in Prince George's--including homes in Glenn Dale, Temple Hills and one in the southern county--and eight are in foster homes, said James Dedes, regional administrator for the Juvenile Services Department. "Everybody thinks group homes are a good idea--but not in their neighborhood," he said.
"It's time we stopped exporting our troubled youths out of the county," Mayne told the City Council.
Two boys and a girl are currently living in the home rented for Starting Over in Bladensburg, which has been in operation for six months. A counselor in the home, Roger Jarjoura, said the house has had just one minor complaint from a neighbor about the residents.
In opposing plans to move to Queensbury Road, residents of the residential neighborhood told the council last week that the Youth Resources Center had not given the city proper notification. The issue took up three hours of debate at the meeting, which was attended by about 100 residents and representatives of youth services agencies.
Among those speaking against the move was Mayor Bass.
"If they had approached us long ago, we may have helped them find something that was appropriate for both the city and Starting Over," he said. " . . . I'm disappointed in all the secrecy." A spokesman for the organization later apologized for not notifying the city of its plans sooner.
Bass said that the Second Mile house, which is also run by Youth Resources Center and houses runaways for two weeks, has been successful in Hyattsville because of its location in a "transient" neighborhood with many rental homes and rooming houses.
"I don't think it would work as well in the neighborhood they are looking at," Bass said.
Youth Resources Center, which receives state and federal funding, can legally move into the home without the city's consent, according to Bass, as long as it restricts the number of residents to four. This leaves the organization with a foster home status, which does not require any approval from city government to operate.
But Bass says that if the group wants to house more than four youths, classifying it as a group home, it must apply for a zoning exception, which would require public hearings and a recommendation from the city to the county.
"At this point I don't think they'd get a recommendation from the city," Bass said.
Officials at Starting Over have indicated that they will begin with just four teen-agers, but hope to increase the number eventually to as many as eight.
Bass said the council did not become aware of Youth Resources Center plans to move into the Hyattsville house until after the group had already signed a contract to buy it.
The mayor also said that he and other council members have received several complaints from neighborhood residents about youths from the Starting Over program who accompanied a counselor to the house for state inspection. The residents charged that the teen-agers were yelling obscenities to passersby. Officials of the organization denied that this had occurred.
"What if a youth can't cope with living in the house?" asked Ron Anderson, who lives on Queensbury Road. "I don't want a Pandora's Box in our neighborhood."
One 18-year old youth who has not lived in Starting Over's house in Bladensburg, but has participated in its counseling program, said in an interview that it helped him "get his head together."
After dropping out of high school at 16, the youth, who asked not to be identified, ran away from home because he and his parents couldn't get along.
"It was a mutual agreement that I leave," he said.
Through Starting Over he has learned to manage his money and use his skills as an auto mechanic, he said.
"I feel I can make it on my own. All I needed was a chance," he said.