About 60 mentally ill residents under the county's care will soon be moved out of a former east Charlotte hotel beset with problems.
Over the next two months, the residents will move out of Charlottetown Manor into two apartment complexes near Central Avenue.
The switch is another setback for the Manor, which has been plagued by financial troubles. It also has been hurt by the scandal that brought down Mecklenburg Open Door, a major county contractor that housed clients at the Manor.
State and local taxpayers will continue to help pay the residents' living expenses, which under the contract ran about $56,000 a month.
The Manor's 43-year-old buildings have been infested with bed bugs and need costly repairs, said Peggy Terhune, chief executive of Monarch, the mental health contractor chosen to replace Open Door. Three residents in the East Independence Boulevard complex were living in rooms without heat in early December, Terhune said.
Formerly a Holiday Inn, the Manor has housed participants in county programs designed to help mentally ill people stay out of jail and get back on their feet after they're released from psychiatric hospitals.
The residents in those programs are scheduled to move to Shadowood and Oak Park, apartment complexes on Eastcrest Drive.
"It will be a huge change," Terhune said. "I'm hoping people can develop the skills they need to live independently in the community. My expectation is this program will cater much more to the individual's needs."
The Manor's residents don't always develop the skills they'll need to live on their own, Terhune said. They can't cook for themselves, for instance, because the Manor's hotel rooms lack kitchens. And they're surrounded almost entirely by others with mental illness.
"People should not be shut away in a segregated environment in substandard living conditions," Terhune said.
While the residents' standard of living will probably rise, the rent will not, Terhune said. The rent and utilities for a one-bedroom apartment - roughly $600 a month - will be comparable to what Charlottetown Manor has charged for a hotel room, she said.
The development is the latest in a host of financial challenges confronting the Manor. Mecklenburg Open Door, now defunct, has failed to pay the business more than $200,000 in past-due rent.
Thousands more have been embezzled from the Manor by a former employee, owners say. Manor founder and co-owner Mary Rudolph says she fired the embezzlement suspect.
But the Manor's other owner, Dr. George Raad, contends its problems are so profound, the courts should appoint a receiver to run it. In a lawsuit filed last month, Raad alleged that Rudolph attempted to conceal the embezzlement and took money from the business without authorization. Rudolph denies the charges.
Few options for housing
Finding a new home for the Manor's residents wasn't easy, Terhune said. That's because most of them have minor criminal records, and area apartment complexes rarely accept tenants with such records.
Managers of Shadowood and Oak Park have agreed to accept the new tenants, despite their records, Terhune said.
The crime rate along Eastcrest Drive is relatively high, Terhune acknowledges. Jeff Greene, a financial adviser to Raad, says he suspects there will be little to keep recovering addicts away from drug dealers.
"It's an environment where they could be exposed to ... all kinds of shenanigans, without boundaries that are in place at the Manor," he said.
Residents at the Manor are protected by surveillance cameras, security guards and gates that are closed at night, Greene said.
But Terhune said she's confident that community policing and a strong neighborhood watch program will keep residents safe after the move to Eastcrest Drive.
"Considering the options, I think we've done really well," she said.
Rethinking crisis center
At their new home, residents will take part in a four-phase program designed to help them recover, Terhune said. In the first two phases, residents will be assessed and receive intense treatment. In the final two, they'll get help obtaining - and keeping - jobs.
Under contract with Mecklenburg County, Open Door began housing residents at Charlottetown Manor in 2007. But the county mental health department severed its ties with Open Door earlier this year, following allegations of embezzlement by former Executive Director Ed Payton and a critical report by federal housing regulators.
The county has assigned Monarch, an Albemarle-based nonprofit, to take over many of Open Door's responsibilities - including the job of building a 16-bed center for people facing mental health crises.
Open Door had planned to build that crisis unit at Charlottetown Manor. Now, however, Monarch expects to put the center elsewhere - preferably in a county-owned building, Terhune said.
Monarch consulted with mentally ill clients and their families, county mental health officials and other professionals before deciding to end its relationship with the Manor, Terhune said.
The county mental health department is also in flux. Its director, Grayce Crockett, announced her resignation earlier this week after acknowledging that her agency didn't adequately monitor Open Door. Local officials plan to restructure the department, as a consultant has recommended.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less