When asked about the 16 houses, city officials said that they sent $100 citations to the owners and that three of those properties have subsequently been registered.

BBH declined to tell The Sun where its houses are or how many it rents for patients. In an interview last year, Terry T. Brown, a vice president and the nonprofit's public face, gave a range of 20 to 30, though some have apparently been closed. The company's housing director, Joy Smith, said at the time that most were within 16 blocks of the BBH campus on West Pratt Street. BBH also operates a 59-bed shelter on South Poppleton Street, where many new patients spend a night or two before moving to the rental houses.

The Sun was able to identify more than 20 houses where BBH patients live or have lived, mostly in areas marked by street-corner drug dealing. Ten are in one neighborhood, New Southwest/Mount Clare.

Even neighbors do not know much about the homes. "We weren't even advised when the first ones moved in," said Ann Ames, a resident active in the community association. She said she and her neighbors have had "very little problem" with the BBH houses.

'That's what addicts do'

Some former house managers and patients described houses that were tidy, well-run operations where drug use was not tolerated and residents supported one another. Others said drug use was a recurring problem at certain houses, undermining the treatment paid for by taxpayers.

Earlier this year, Chris Schussler shared a rowhouse in the 1300 block of Hollins St. with 13 other men in treatment at BBH. He found it a decent place, even though he saw four housemates drinking and smoking crack cocaine.

Drug use at BBH houses "obviously does happen," said Schussler, who said he went to BBH after spending three weeks at Sheppard Pratt's inpatient psychiatric unit in Towson.

"You have people coming in, and they're just looking for a place to stay," he said. "They're not here for any programs. They're just here to get some food, some warmth and a bed. That's no secret; that's anyplace."

Sometimes patient-managers themselves use drugs, patients say.

"A lot of times, the house manager is getting high, so they're in cahoots together," said Kevin Brown, a patient during 2007 who is not related to Stephen Brown or Terry Brown. (Stephen Brown says he never used drugs while a patient-manager.)

Kevin Brown and others said it was not hard to evade detection. "They really don't have random urinalysis," he said. "It's more or less if somebody gives you up. If a person is getting high and hiding it well, they go through the whole program high."

Hathaway did not reply to Sun inquiries about BBH's drug-testing policy. While the state does not require the nonprofit to test, regulators say that BBH executives have told them that patients are screened when the staff suspects drug use.

"Yes, people use in the houses," said Tommy Thompson, 48, who lived in three BBH houses in 2008 and 2009. "But we're addicts. That's what addicts do. Everybody is not going to stop at the same time."

Drug use "wasn't too bad," recalled Wayne Mason, 50, a former patient and house manager. When it did happen, he said, he called BBH staff members and the patient would be given a drug test.

"Nine times out of 10," someone who relapsed was evicted from housing for 30 to 90 days, he said, though after a first offense they could continue with addiction and mental health therapy.

Mason said watching over patients with erratic behavior, including some who broke into an abandoned house, was a taller order. "I had a guy on the roof — he was hollering at the moon," Mason said. Another patient "used to throw stuff out the window and run downstairs and try to catch it."

But Mason welcomed the challenge. "I thought, 'If I can be responsible for 15 men, I can be responsible for myself,'" he said, noting that he'll mark three years of sobriety in December.

Shirley Sturgill, 38, a former patient who managed one of the three BBH houses in which she lived, praised the therapy regimen. "This is the only one that worked for me," she said.

But Sturgill, who has a temporary catering job, said housing drew patients for the wrong reasons: "Some people just go there for a room and a bed. Then they come out and start using again."