Rather than paying rent, the women pay a "program fee," which varies depending on their income. Some of the women receive Supplemental Security Income and pay more than those who receive Transitional Emergency, Medical and Housing Assistance, which amounts to about $180 in housing aid and $120 in food stamps a month. Clients with TEMHA are encouraged to find a job quickly so they can cover their share of household expenses, which start at $150 a month, plus all of the food assistance money.
"We're never a nuisance in the community," said Tony Kirkland, director of the Anchor House network. Kirkland, who also runs a construction firm and management consulting business, has opened five group homes since November. He says he plans to open four more in the next month. "We are very selective, very professional and very quiet."
Kirkland said he has had few problems in setting up his group homes. But in a city where housing values are on the rise, opposition from community associations is not infrequent. To avoid tussles, group home owners don't publicize addresses. They are leery of strangers, for fear they might be spies from down the street.
Some owners also complain that city building and health inspectors offer conflicting information. In the end, they say, opening a group home can cost thousands of dollars in construction and legal fees, with owners receiving little in return except the knowledge that they are helping people in need.
"There were so many people I was hiring for my construction business that were addicts," Kirkland said. "It was contact with them that moved me to do this."
City officials are looking for ways to monitor group homes. Baltimore Substance Abuse System has stepped up efforts to count them, and a task force of citizens and experts has been asked to come up with recommendations for ways to standardize the facilities. One idea is to create a list of group homes that have voluntarily complied with health and safety guidelines. Court, probation and parole, and treatment officials would consult the list when making referrals.
Today, group home referrals are done on an "ad-hoc basis," Beilenson said.
"People who are coming out of residential treatment centers have to find a place to live, and that is where you want good group homes," he said. "You don't want people going back to their `people, places and things.' There is a big need for group homes that are safe and well-run."
Legislation is expected to be reintroduced before the City Council this year that could make it easier for group homes to open, said Otis Rolley III, the city's planning director. The city zoning code requires council approval for group homes with eight or more residents, but advocates say that is a violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, which guarantees recovering addicts the same housing rights as other people.
Rolley said he is waiting for the task force to make its recommendations before moving forward with the legislation. He said Mayor Martin O'Malley backs the change.
"This administration is very much in support of adhering to federal law," Rolley said.
At Anchor House, residents say they are just happy to feel loved again.
"I had love now and then when I was growing up," said Precious Martin, 24, a recovering marijuana addict. "But that's not what it is like here. I feel real comfortable here. I feel loved here."
Weary from years of reckless behavior and hard living, the women say they are enjoying their newfound lucidity, as well as the everyday chores that make up a normal life: paying bills, cooking dinner, vacuuming.
"I'm like a kid with a new toy," Stanley said.