When state licensing inspectors visited a Homestead-area boarding house last year, they found signs of rats, an unsafe water source and ill-maintained electrical wiring and fire safety equipment.
A background check wasn’t part of the survey, but it would’ve revealed that an assistant director had criminal convictions for cocaine possession, burglary and carrying a concealed weapon.
State healthcare inspectors who visited the Young Residence Home in June discovered another problem: It was an unlicensed assisted-living facility.
The owner told regulators that the home provided only housing, not other services, for alcoholics, ex-convicts and people with mental health issues. But the inspector found that staff helped residents take medication.
One person who had lived at the home for four years told authorities: “I don’t want to be here. We get little food, and it’s bad.”
The situation at the Homestead home is neither isolated nor unusual. Hundreds of congregate living facilities across Florida escape any state scrutiny because no agency regulates them. They have names like Home Sweet Home, House of Joy and Nurse’s Loving Heart. They call themselves shelters, rooming houses or “sober homes.” Some even receive Medicaid dollars.
Critics say these facilities are actually unlicensed ALFs, using a different name to avoid licensure and inspection — and to enhance their profits. An ALF, in addition to providing housing, can help with daily tasks like bathing, dressing and taking medication. To open one, an operator must pass a background check, pay fees and submit to inspections.
Last year, state healthcare regulators received more than 200 complaints about unlicensed activity and confirmed that 62 were, indeed, unlicensed ALFs, including 15 in Miami-Dade and Broward. These numbers have risen more than 60 percent from 2010. By June this year, the Agency for Health Care Administration had identified another 37 unlicensed homes around the state.
But critics say many others operate under the radar.
“These facilities could really almost act with impunity because of the lack of regulatory oversight,” said George Sheldon, a former secretary of the state Department of Children & Families.
The Young Residence Home in Homestead is an example of the problems created by a lack of oversight.
Police have been dispatched to the home — and its former location 10 minutes away — nearly 100 times since 2008. Nearly 40 incidents related to concerns that someone needed to be hospitalized because he was an imminent threat to himself or others. Fifteen were missing person cases, including a resident with bipolar disorder.
A woman staying in a trailer with Derril Young, the assistant director and son of one of the owners, told police he threatened her with a machete after a fight about their drug use. A second person told police that Young tried to punch him in the face and threatened to shoot him.
4 to a room
In Tampa, one shelter had been open for four years before healthcare inspectors visited last May. Located in a pair of bland, two-story apartment buildings, Touched by the Hand Outreach promised “moral, physical, mental, and most of all spiritual support” to those who were homeless, disabled or seeking rehabilitation.
Up to 40 people lived at the home, with as many as four to a bedroom, said Patrick Lewis, who lived and volunteered at the shelter and in June took over running the residence, now called Temple Terrace Boarding House.