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The Nose

Homing In

Posted 1/26/2005

A Jan. 17 Sun story, “For former addicts, a place to call home,” by staff writer Lynn Anderson, gave the Nose a cold. The piece, published shortly after three men were murdered in a Remington group home for recovering drug addicts, tried to put a good face on a Baltimore cottage industry: providing beds for addicts on the mend. While acknowledging the obvious—that “not all group homes provide safe and clean conditions for clients”—the article’s nut was that group-home owners receive “little in return” for their efforts “except the knowledge that they are helping people in need.”

Anderson’s poster child of group-home economics, Eugene “Tony” Kirkland, a developer/psychotherapist who heads the Anchor House network of homes for addicts, explained in the article that “there were so many people I was hiring for my construction business that were addicts. It was contact with them that moved me to do this.” One of Kirkland’s Anchor House partners, Paul Butts of Conshohocken, Pa., tells the Nose, “I’m helping out the community, and it’s a way to make a little bit of money for helping people out. But the bigger goal is to help people.”

Achoo! Pass the hanky, please. This angle doesn’t pass the Nose’s smell test. Does anyone really believe that philanthropy is all that drives the proliferation of privately run group homes for ex-druggies, or could the opportunity to make a buck off of desperate people have something to do with it? When pressed, even Kirkland copped to the profit motive.

“Just do the numbers,” Kirkland says. His tenants sign over their government benefits and provide cheap labor for his other properties-in-progress. A house with 12 to 20 men living in it—like the Anchor House property at 2227 Linden Ave. in Reservoir Hill—will rake in thousands per month.

“Absolutely, it’s much more than you can get renting,” he says of his state-registered charity, Anchor House Recovery Services Inc. “Sometimes it is very profitable, sometimes it’s not.”

With 50,000 or so addicts living in Baltimore, though, there is always a glut of prospective tenants—which explains why Kirkland plans to add three or four more homes in the coming months to his existing six. Transitional homes for addicts may well be the highest and best use of residential property for landlords looking to maximize profits, Kirkland says. Anchor House’s methods, he adds, are better than those of many less scrupulous halfway-house operators, who warehouse their recovering addicts in far worse conditions.

If The Sun had looked into Kirkland’s business ties, it may have found reason to question his purportedly charitable intentions. Fifty-fifty partners with Kirkland in a property-holding company called Sir Sagamore LLC, according to state records, is none other than Michael Mfume, a ne’er-do-well son of former U.S. congressman Kweisi Mfume. The younger Mfume’s August 2004 gun-possession conviction was his third strike. In the 1990s he pled guilty to sexual battery in Atlanta and he received one year’s probation and a $1,000 fine. He also received 18 months probation and a $195 fine for lying to police in Maryland. Hamilton Pollock, the founding resident agent for another Kirkland company, Richland Properties, pleaded guilty in the mid-1990s to illegally selling confidential information about Medicaid families to HMOs. Kirkland was quick to distance himself from these characters when he talked to the Nose, but their records speak for themselves.

“I felt ill when I read the Sun article,” wrote Reservoir Hill resident Adam Meister in an e-mail to the Nose. He’s the head of the self-titled RYBBIES (an acronym for “risk-taking young Baltimoreans”), a group of upstarts who purchased homes on the same block of Linden where Anchor House is putting down roots. “We want to be known as a place where homeowners can move to and live normal lives, [so] there are many people throughout the ’hood that are fed up with the proliferation of group homes here.”

As far as Kirkland is concerned, Meister and his gang are a bunch of naive Johnny-come-latelies with an entitlement complex. “Anything that doesn’t conform to what Adam wants, Adam will fight,” Kirkland remarked—pointing out that he is the real pioneer, having bought houses in Reservoir Hill first.

Despite the holier-than-thou attitude of Meister and company, the Nose can’t hold it against residents who feel besieged by group homes. After all, who wants their neighborhood, once inhabited by families and resident homeowners, to host growing numbers of overcrowded houses filled with people trying to overcome bad habits that die hard? These at-riskers, after all, are potential customers for drug dealers. Cram a small army of tender rehabbers in any neighborhood and the Nose predicts that the corner boys will quickly look to cater to the newcomers. “That makes sense to me,” Kirkland says, but he points out that drugs, druggies, and drug dealers are already all over the city. So, “one way or another, communities are going to have to live with it.”

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