How do you sleep at night?
And how do you live with yourself knowing that you’ve exploited the misfortune of some of the most vulnerable people in your community ... to make a buck?
If someone actually did what has been alleged — that is, warehoused homeless people in Greensboro in substandard conditions in a scheme to collect Medicaid money — these are among the first questions we’d ask them.
City officials say two mental health agencies, Ready4Change and United Youth Care Services, actively scouted and enrolled homeless people into programs that provided housing in exchange for substance-abuse treatment. Then those organizations billed Medicaid for their services.
The housing typically consisted of cut-rate hotels and shabby apartments. And, according to at least one participant, if you didn’t need treatment, they’d try to keep you anyway. The woman alleges that she was given drugs or alcohol by one of the programs so she would fail drug tests and thus remain eligible. The mother of four eventually left the program, she said, after being told that she and her children would have to live in a hotel room with another family.
In separate news releases issued, incidentally, by the same Washington-based law firm, Ready4Change and United Youth Care Services flatly denied the charges by city officials and some of the programs’ clients.
They are entitled to due process, but the allegations are both serious and disheartening.
The situation came to light when what initially was thought to be a power outage at a Greensboro apartment complex on June 13 turned out to be something else: Duke Energy had shut off the power for 35 people in about a dozen apartments at Georgetown Manor because of bills that were left unpaid by the leasing company hired to manage the units.
As the News & Record’s Richard Barron reported Wednesday, Ready4Change disputes any connection to those apartments. But Brett Byerly, director of the Greensboro Housing Coalition, says clients from the program specifically referred to Ready4Change when complaining to him about the living conditions at Georgetown Manor.
Meanwhile, there is no disputing the sorry state of the apartments. Inspectors found missing windows, roach infestations and other violations. The units have been condemned and are being repaired by the California company that owns them.
As for the bigger picture in Greensboro, it’s an ugly one. The triple ravages of poverty, high eviction rates and scarce housing for low-income people keeps repeating in a sordid twist on the movie “Groundhog Day.” From Heritage House to the Summit Executive Center to a ramshackle complex at the corner of Summit Avenue and Cone Boulevard that mostly catered to immigrant refugees, the same shameful story seems to play on an endless loop.
This is not only unacceptable, it is immoral. Whatever the outcome of the investigation of the alleged scam, damage already has been done. The clouds of suspicion created by any bad actors will envelop good actors as well, making their jobs that much more difficult. Even worse, such schemes may exist elsewhere.
If this is as awful as it looks, the investigation should be aggressive. As for anyone who would treat the less fortunate like objects to be rented and stored for federal dollars, part of their penance ought to be to have to live under those same squalid conditions.
Then maybe they wouldn’t sleep so well at night.