Last month, a case where a man died after being held captive at a home in Houston made national news. It highlighted a problem that’s been going on for many years: The criminal practice of some unlicensed boarding homes that house elderly and mentally disabled people only to rob them of their government benefits.
Douglas Anders is an investigator with HPD’s Mental Health Division. He says there are more than 400 unlicensed group boarding homes in Houston. Of those, 35 have been found to be corrupt.
“The unscrupulous owners look at the person not to give them care but they’re looking at them as property. They’re looking at the person as that’s a way that I can make profit by getting his social security check. They don’t care about the care part.”
Those owners often lock in the people that they’re supposed to help with meals, transportation or money management, and leave them in deplorable conditions. Anders says they may only take them out to pick up their social security checks or food stamps, which the owners then keep for themselves.
“We’ve found convicted felons handing out medication at homes that had narcotics convictions. We have found people running these homes that have injury or assault of the elderly convictions on their record and they’re managing these homes.”
The Houston Police Department formally established its Mental Health Division about three months ago. As soon as two more positions are filled, the division will have three investigators dedicated to look into boarding home violations. In November, a new city ordinance will go into effect that should help identify the bad apples.
“Previously, the only point of contact that we had is when the police responded perhaps to a disturbance at one of these locations.”
City council member Ed Gonzalez was the driving force behind the ordinance, which passed unanimously last month.
“Now, it at least gives us reason to say, ‘Look, if you can’t meet these basic requirements, then you really shouldn’t be operating one of these locations.’”
The ordinance requires unlicensed boarding homes to register with the city and their operators to undergo criminal background checks. They also have to have an annual fire code inspection and keep basic operational records.
Douglas Anders with the Mental Health Division says it’s not always easy to charge those with bad intentions because their victims are often mentally incapable of testifying against them.
He says the ordinance will make it easier to file charges.