Group homes are under scrutiny

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A task force of city officials, planners and social services providers met last night to discuss ways to regulate group homes for recovering addicts, recently released prisoners and homeless people. They have until Feb. 28 to come up with a set of recommendations.

Group homes came under scrutiny after the slaying of three men in a home for recovering drug and alcohol abusers in Remington.

A fourth man was wounded in the Jan. 10 attack, which police say was sparked by a $300 marijuana debt. Police have arrested one suspect and are looking for a second.

At City Hall yesterday, Tony Harrison, who manages several homes called Changing Directions, described how the homes work.

He said the need for group homes has never been greater, but there is also a need to regulate them to make sure they are helping people, not just taking their money.

"The people I get have nothing," he said. "I had a guy a week ago who didn't even have shoes on. ... There's a need, but there's a need to have it done right."

City officials hope to bring order to the cottage industry, but first have to figure out how many group homes are in the city.

No one regulates group homes, and state law doesn't require them to be licensed. Shari Wilson, division chief of strategic planning for the city's Department of Planning, unveiled a map with some group homes plotted on it last night.

"This is a work in progress," she said, explaining that the only way she could get information about group homes was to call social service agencies that work with people who use them. It was a random count at best, Wilson said.

So far, the city has been able to identify 117 unlicensed group homes. City health officials have estimated that there could be as many as 2,000 scattered across the city.

The task force split into four work groups to address specific needs: funding, legal issues, best practices and enforcement.

City officials have talked about asking group homeowners to voluntarily meet certain guidelines in return for referrals by drug courts and treatment centers.

Last night, there was also talk of setting up a supply bank to provide needed equipment for owners who keep their homes clean and safe. Court officials have discussed paying good group homes a per diem for every drug court referral they take.

Funding, however, remains a major hurdle. "No one has the money," said Clif Burton, coordinator of the Baltimore City Drug Treatment Court.

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