A triple homicide Monday night inside a drug and alcohol recovery facility in Remington has opened a window into a cottage industry in Baltimore - small, unlicensed and unmonitored group homes where recuperating addicts and alcoholics go to live.
"This is a totally unregulated, uncatalogued set of services," said Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, Baltimore's health commissioner. "There are many hundreds, if not thousands, in the city."
Most are well run, fill a need and are not required to hold government licenses, officials said yesterday, but concerns about the Remington facility have prompted a state inquiry.
Investigators from the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, a unit of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, do not believe the facility has a license, and they are trying to determine whether it should have one, said Donald Hall, the director of quality assurance for the ADAA. Providing treatment for drug or alcohol addiction without a license is a violation of state law, he said.
"It's really going to depend on what exactly they were doing and to what extent they were doing it," Hall said.
It's unclear what services were being provided at West 27th Street and Sisson Street. The nonprofit Club 12, formed in May 2003, bought the property in July 2003. It was not receiving state funding, and it was unclear how many facilities the corporation runs, state officials said.
The corporation's three directors - William W. Cunningham Jr., Manley H. Cosper III and Christine E. Blubaugh - could not be reached for comment yesterday.
According to its incorporation papers, Club 12 was designed to provide a meeting place for members of alcohol and drug addiction recovery programs, transitional housing for alcoholics and drug addicts, and "any service for alcoholics and drug addicts to help them recover."
"That would be questionable," Hall said of the services.
If investigators determine the facility was providing treatment without a license, they would confer with the state Attorney General's Office to determine sanctions, Hall said.
Also yesterday, city officials said the facility was operating in an area where zoning prohibited it. Zoning changes have been proposed to the City Council that would loosen the rules, but even those changes would not permit the facility, city officials said. Though there are several houses, the area is zoned for industrial purposes.
"This use is not permitted in that area, nor would it be permitted under those proposed changes," said Raquel Guillory, a spokeswoman for Mayor Martin O'Malley.
Zoning officials are investigating, she said. They typically try to bring violators into compliance, and if violators refuse, officials take them to court.
"I think that the vast majority of group homes are well-run," said Ellen M. Weber, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Law. "I don't know anything about this particular group home, but from my understanding, the situation itself is an aberration."
The city's vast array of small recovery facilities was cast into the spotlight late Monday when three men were shot in the head and killed inside 541 W. 27th St., a building at the end of a block of Formstone rowhouses. A fourth man broke out a second-story window and escaped, while he was shot at again by someone leaning out the window, city police said. The man who escaped suffered a gunshot wound to his back.
Police did not release names yesterday because their families had not been notified, but detectives said all three victims lived at the facility. They did not say whether the fourth man lived there but said he is expected to survive.
One of the victims might have been killed over a debt, police have said. All the victims were in their 30s or 40s.
The killing could reverberate more broadly across Baltimore's drug and alcohol treatment community, Beilenson said:
"I'm afraid this is going to potentially raise community ire around the city."
He said the facilities are needed to help serve the city's estimated 65,000 addicts. They offer recovering addicts and alcoholics a place to live after leaving long-term treatment and before returning to their homes. Some former addicts stay in group homes for months before returning to their families. They say it is easier to live with people of similar backgrounds.
But some have already been the subject of dispute.
O'Malley recently convened a task force to try to come up with a solution for poorly run group homes. The group, which includes Weber and Bonnie L. Cypull, chief executive of Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems Inc., has until the end of February to develop recommendations.
There has been growing community pressure to come up with a plan. Homeowners in some of the city's low-income neighborhoods have complained for years about fly-by-night operators who buy cheap, dilapidated housing, purchase a half-dozen cots and open a "group home."