Through the Cracks

At least one local group home is having problems--and the agencies partially funding the home are doing nothing about it

La Frontera Center's chief executive insists that when the agency helps people with behavioral health problems find housing, those people make the final decision--even if La Frontera is paying the bill. Officials with the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona, La Frontera's primary funding source, agree.

A recent example demonstrates this might not necessarily be the case.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, a man (who requested anonymity) sought assistance from La Frontera in finding temporary housing. He was given two choices: The first was Rose Haven, a "board and care" facility on Tucson's eastside, for which La Frontera would pay the $125 weekly rent.

The other option--for the man with back problems--was to spend a night in a recliner chair in a La Frontera facility.

He obviously chose Rose Haven--and within 24 hours, he perceived Rose Haven to be in substandard physical condition. He complained to La Frontera and CPSA; those complaints included open smoke detectors with no batteries in them, and a slimy tan strip of grease around the stove, thick enough to cut. Also found were broken furniture, mold in the bathroom, dilapidated beds and soiled cushions.

Another one of the facility's six tenants pointed out additional problems. In a signed statement, he commented: "We never get served any milk, soda, fruit juice or fruit, and don't get any vegetables very often with our meals ... .".

CPSA didn't seem impressed, and apparently didn't even bother to check. According to their policy, they were, however, to issue a notice of the complaint to the service organizations they contract with, and those providers were supposed to visit their clients at Rose Haven and assist them with relocation if they desired to move.

Neal Cash, chief executive officer of CPSA, emphasized in a letter to the complainant that he had chosen to go to Rose Haven. Then the communication states: "Though you requested an inspection of the Rosehaven (sic) Board and Care home, the investigator explained that both CPSA and LFC (La Frontera Center) lack authority to inspect or impact the operations of Board and Care Homes."

Daniel Ranieri, CEO of La Frontera, concurs. He says his agency will monitor board and care homes for safety, and is supposed to visit once a month--but he doesn't know if that was done at Rose Haven in December.

"We don't refer people (to board and care homes)," Ranieri says. "Those with no place to live, we may help them, and will pay for it on occasion.

"It's up to the clients to live there to not. We can request them to leave, but can't force them to." But, he acknowledges, La Frontera could stop paying the rent.

Local agencies weren't the only ones generally uninterested in complaints concerning Rose Haven. The Arizona Department of Health Services inspected the facility twice over the last seven months, but simply to determine if the staff was providing treatment or assisting tenants with taking medications, actions which require a state license. The facility had such a license until last June, then dropped it.

Not finding any violations of the license issue, ADHS closed the complaint files. Asked if the inspectors noted any physical problems with the facility when they visited, a spokesman for the agency said: "We can't if they're not licensed, or have no reason to be licensed."

At least the Arizona Office of Human Rights quickly responded to the concerns raised, twice sending a representative to visit Rose Haven. But what his conclusions were remain a mystery: He didn't return phone calls.

For their part, the fire safety division of the Tucson Fire Department, after being contacted recently by the Weekly, sent an inspector to the facility the next day. He found batteries in the smoke detectors, but determined one more needed to be installed, while also noting the grease around the stove. He plans another visit.

The questionable physical condition of Rose Haven wouldn't be a surprise to anyone who knows the owner's difficult financial situation. As Christie Simmons stated in a 2004 court document: "I own nothing except a $1,500 1989 used van. ... My church buys my food."

Simmons, who didn't respond to several phone calls, signed a $70,000 promissory note in 1998 to purchase the business. But after paying $16,000, the following year, she stopped making payments. Because of that, the previous owner took her to court, where Simmons was ordered to pay the balance owed, plus attorney fees and interest.

But she didn't, and by September 2004, the total owed had grown to almost $75,000. At that time, Simmons wrote: "I have no pay check. I have not had one since taking over the business. ... I do not have any monies to release."

Last year, Simmons was directed to pay $500 a month until the debt was satisfied. But she only made one payment, then stopped.

When informed of this--and even though La Frontera pays Simmons' rent money--Ranieri said the financial situation of the Rose Haven owner was no business of his agency.

"We never get into that," he stated. "We're not involved with the operations of the board and cares. We deal with clients."