GREENSBORO — David Fields and Julie Everhart had no place to stay Friday night.
Fields, Everhart and her four children were homeless for the first time in 18 months.
But it was better than where they had been living: a filthy motel with roaches, bedbugs and mold.
Until Friday morning, all six were sharing a room at the Travel Inn on Greenhaven Drive while Everhart was enrolled in a substance-abuse program operated by United Youth Care Services in Greensboro.
United Youth Care provided housing and food for Everhart and her children while billing $4,000 a month from Medicaid for her treatment.
But it all went bad Thursday when United Youth Care told the family they’d have to leave their room and move into another room where two adults and two children were already living.
Or they could leave.
So Everhart, 30, told staff she was leaving.
“I go there this morning and I say I’m not willing to put me and four kids in another room with four other people,” she said Friday afternoon.
Everhart, who is now pregnant with her fifth child, gathered what little they owned, sent her children to stay temporarily with her mother outside Greensboro and went to work Friday, trying to keep her mind off what happened.
Everhart’s family is just the latest example in a possible scheme by two local mental health agencies looking to profit from their clients.
United Youth Care and another agency — Ready 4 Change — provide housing in exchange for their homeless clients to attend treatment programs. Then they send Medicaid the bill.
Up until Friday, the scheme was thought to be confined to one apartment complex in Greensboro. Now, the scope may be much wider.
It was one week ago when 35 people were displaced at the Georgetown Manor apartments in southwest Greensboro. That’s because Duke Energy turned off the power due to an unpaid bill from the leasing company the agencies hired.
Residents complained about the living conditions to officials, revealing that they had been residing there conditionally with the help of the two mental health agencies.
Now, most of the apartments where those people were living have been condemned by city inspectors because of roaches, missing windows and other housing code violations.
On Friday, a representative of United Youth Care declined to give her name or make a statement, saying only that the agency has a lawyer who will be speaking later.
Everhart and Fields believe their story will prove that the Medicaid scheme affects more people in Greensboro than those living at Georgetown Manor.
Things were happier, Everhart and Fields said, when they were simply renting a room at the same motel, unattached to the substance-abuse program.
It wasn’t cheap: $900 a month for the six of them to live in a room. But they had maid service and clean linens.
Everhart had been hearing about a substance-abuse program that housed people, but she wasn’t interested because she didn’t abuse drugs and barely drank alcohol.
But when someone told her the program could help her with the mental health issues she battled, including bipolar disorder, she started looking into it.
She found that United Youth Care would provide treatment in exchange for her Medicaid insurance coverage.
But despite the fact that she had gone for an admission assessment, the program wasn’t offering her a room or the treatment it had promised. After two weeks, a staffer told Everhart she hadn’t demonstrated she had a substance-abuse problem in her interview and wasn’t eligible.
But she said the staffer encouraged her to try a different approach.
“He literally basically coached me on what to say to get into the housing part,” she said.
He told her to talk in interviews about how much she drinks or how much she’s spending on drugs each week.
“Then they ended up putting me in housing the very next day,” Everhart said.
That was in March.
Staffers promised Everhart they would help her with a deposit and furniture for a real apartment. For somebody making $8.50 an hour at McDonald’s, the offer was too good to resist.
All she had to do was attend a three-hour class each day and meet other rules such as a 10 p.m. curfew on weeknights.
Everhart said she and her husband were among the few people there who had jobs.
And Everhart said she was forced to go one step further to keep the free housing: She had to fail a drug test.
Of course, that would require her to use an illegal substance. Medicaid needed proof, Everhart recalled, and the staff was willing to help.
She had to keep up the charade or get kicked out of the program. Three clean urine tests in a row disqualified a participant.
But if she kept failing tests, the treatment — and housing — was virtually unlimited.
In an interview Friday afternoon, Everhart wouldn’t specify what drug United Youth Care staffers got for her.
“You’re forced to take (a drug) or you lose your housing,” Everhart explained. “And I didn’t like having to do that at all.”
Fields, 31, said that’s not how a treatment program should work.
“It’s supposed to be a drug treatment program but yet ... you’re telling your clients that they have to stay dirty in order to remain in the program,” he said. “That’s just keeping them in the program longer so that they can make more money off Medicaid and individuals that do not have Medicaid.”
Before she entered the program, Everhart said her room at the Travel Inn was clean and organized. But things were very different in the portion of the hotel for participants in the treatment programs.
She claimed that’s because United Youth Care handled its own cleaning and maintenance under an agreement with Travel Inn management.
When Everhart, Fields and their children moved into United Youth Care’s rooms, they found bugs, a ceiling that leaked and a carpet that was so wet it sloshed when they walked on it.
That’s when Everhart started getting sick.
When she went to the hospital in early June, doctors found that her asthmatic bronchitis was due to mold exposure.
“The room we were just put out of last night, I’ve went through five cans of roach spray in less than two weeks,” Fields said. “They just refuse to do anything to help.”
Now, they’re back on the street.
Now, all they have is their family, their 2003 Honda Civic and two cellphones.
Fields and Everhart believe the staffers at United Youth Care are preparing to abandon the operation — or at least defend it from prying eyes.
“It was just a couple of days ago they started going into the classes telling us what to say if we were ever to be questioned,” Everhart said.