While charging his parents thousands of dollars for services and care, Normandy Park treatment provider Hanbleceya left Justin DeVille at a Pioneer Square homeless shelter because he hadn't followed the strict rules at a group home.
For weeks in the spring, Justin DeVille, a 27-year-old mentally ill man from Atlanta, wandered the Seattle streets, trying to find food and a safe place to stay. Homeless, hungry and exhausted, DeVille sometimes slept at a shelter. Other times, he crashed under an abandoned house for the night or huddled in makeshift cardboard hovels.
His parents, back in Georgia, believed their son was being cared for at a suburban Seattle group home for the mentally ill. They believed he was getting psychotherapy, one-on-one support and other treatment, for which the DeVilles were paying more than $25,000.
To their dismay, they said, they later learned that staffers at the for-profit home, Hanbleceya, had dropped off Justin at a Pioneer Square homeless shelter several times because he hadn’t followed rules at the group home.
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Not only was their son neglected, Roman and Diane DeVille said, but they paid thousands of dollars for services and care that weren’t provided by Hanbleceya.
“They are charlatans and worse than that,” said Roman DeVille, a lawyer. “They didn’t give a damn if Justin was alive or dead. It’s a miracle he didn’t kill himself or kill someone else.”
About eight months ago, Hanbleceya, a company based in La Mesa, Calif., quietly opened a treatment clinic in Normandy Park. It also bought three nearby homes, rented two others, and filled them with clients suffering from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, drug addiction or other illnesses. Hanbleceya, whose name means “quest for vision,” charges up to $100,000 a year for a room and treatment.
Since then, the company has come under fire by residents of the small, middle- to upper-income suburb south of Seattle. They accuse the company of deceiving neighbors about its plans, providing inadequate care and avoiding government oversight.
With new information about the company, the state Department of Health (DOH) opened an investigation in early August to determine if Hanbleceya is operating an unlicensed residential treatment facility.
Because Hanbleceya provides treatment at a clinic, not inside the homes, it says the homes aren’t residential treatment facilities, which are licensed and regulated by the DOH. Currently, Hanbleceya isn’t regulated by any state or federal agency.
Asked about Justin DeVille, psychologist Ian Wolds, Hanbleceya’s clinical director, said he couldn’t discuss any specific client. In rare cases, Wolds said, clients voluntarily agree to be sent to homeless shelters, hospitals and sober-living homes, but that Hanbleceya doesn’t lock them out of the group homes.
“If a person is vulnerable and needing a high level of care, we try to provide that level of care. The person has a choice if they want to go along with that,” he said.
Ron Honberg, the director for policy and legal affairs for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said he’s wary of companies like Hanbleceya because there’s no way to independently determine if they provide quality care. “It’s for-profit, the folks are guarded in sharing information, and there’s no licensure — that’s a prescription for real problems,” he said.
There has been a proliferation across the country of a new breed of unregulated boarding homes that provide long-term mental-health treatment, Honberg said. These homes often are operated by staffers who have little training or education in mental health, he said.
Lack of oversight can lead to neglect and abuse, even death. Last month in San Antonio, four mentally ill men died in a fire at an unregulated group home.
Years earlier, Texas officials had evidence the owner neglected residents and violated several health and safety codes at the home, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
But in 2010, Texas eliminated any licensing requirements for these types of group homes. In the wake of last month’s deadly fire, San Antonio officials are expected to pass laws in October regulating the homes.
Vulnerable young man
As a toddler, Justin had special needs, his father said. As a teenager with attention deficit disorder and other problems, he attended special private schools that provided personalized instruction and support.
As a young adult, he was given a dual diagnosis of bipolar disorder and substance abuse “with schizophrenic influences.” He needed a residential-treatment facility that could monitor his medications, teach him life skills and help him psychologically.
He and his parents thought Hanbleceya was that place — especially after it offered Justin a “high performers scholarship” that entitled him to 50 percent off the cost of treatment and rent at one of its new homes in the Seattle suburb. But they needed to act fast to lock in the award that promised to save them $43,000 a year, Roman DeVille recalled being told.
In late January, he sent Hanbleceya $4,414 for the first month of services and $4,200 for a clinical assessment of his son. On Feb. 13, when Justin arrived in Seattle, Hanbleceya managing partner Kerry Paulson said the company needed an additional $9,000, Roman DeVille said.
“He wanted me to wire it before Justin was to set foot in the facility,” the lawyer said. “At that point I was still a father, and I had a son I loved, and I had the money and sent it.”
In a recent interview, Justin said he struggled with Hanbleceya’s rigid environment and rules. After an outburst, staffers considered him to be a threat. Without warning, they suspended him from the program, he said. That meant no psychological services and no place to live in a strange city.
They dropped him off at Bread of Life, a Seattle homeless shelter in Pioneer Square where he secured a temporary bed. He said he had almost no money, no identification and no cellphone.
While drifting on the streets, he discovered charitable organizations that handed out free food like peanut-butter sandwiches.
Each morning a Hanbleceya staffer met Justin in front of Bread of Life and handed him medication.
With temperatures dipping into the low 30s, Justin, with only sandals and the clothes on his back, said he asked a staffer for more of his clothing. He said he was refused.
“One night after a panic attack I found a spot under an abandoned house that had sleeping bags there,” Justin said. “I became increasingly unstable.”
He called his parents and left messages, pleading for help. But they did not respond.
According to their contract with Hanbleceya, the DeVilles were prohibited from any contact with Justin for the first 45 days of treatment. If they broke the rule, they faced the financial penalty of losing the scholarship, and Justin could be kicked out immediately, according to the agreement.
Roman DeVille said Hanbleceya notified him that Justin was at the shelter as part of a tough-love program. “They tell me … parents have to step aside. It’s probably the parents’ fault, we have coddled them all along,” he said. “Interference amounts in loss of scholarship.”
Wolds said the no-contact rule helps individuals adjust to treatment and prevents parents from enabling them.
After Justin was homeless for about a week and begging to return, he said Hanbleceya readmitted him after he completed his assignment: writing a letter of apology.
The next month and a half of his life in the Seattle area is still fuzzy for Justin, who said he was overmedicated, tired and agitated. At one point he faked a suicide attempt by tying string around his neck to get attention, he said. In all, he recalled being suspended and dropped off at Bread of Life several times and twice being sent to Overlake Hospital Medical Center in Bellevue.
Despite Hanbleceya’s written agreement to immediately notify financially responsible parties of a loved one’s suspension from housing or treatment, the DeVilles say they were kept in the dark about how long Justin was homeless and that he’d been hospitalized once for a week.
Justin estimates he was homeless or in the hospital for about 40 of the 73 days he was enrolled at Hanbleceya.
“Justin chose to leave the facility because he was not willing to appropriately participate in the program and furthermore his behavior put other clients at risk,” Paulson, the Hanbleceya managing partner, wrote in an email to Justin’s parents after their son returned to Atlanta. “We attempted to get him to a safe shelter so he could start working on his assignments to get back into Hanbleceya housing but he refused (and by the way, on numerous occasions).”
Paulson also wrote that Justin threatened an employee who was trying to get him to follow the rules.
The DeVilles provided the emails to The Seattle Times. Paulson declined to comment.
Honberg, of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said Hanbleceya’s methods can pose serious dangers for clients.
“Kicking people out should be the last resort,” Honberg said. “That kind of approach flies in the face of anything I’ve heard over the years for appropriate and acceptable practice.”
After Justin and his parents finally connected, Justin said his scholarship was revoked and he left the program April 26. He is living with his parents in Atlanta, attending college and getting psychological treatment.
The DeVilles said a large part of the $25,000 they paid Hanbleceya went for services like one-on-one support, food, rent and individual therapy that their son didn’t receive because he was homeless or at the hospital. When they asked for a detailed accounting of services and a partial refund, they said, Hanbleceya declined to provide either.
Justin DeVille’s experience was not unusual, according to a former Hanbleceya staffer at its La Mesa operation, which has nine homes and a clinic.
“They punish people by throwing them out on the streets” if they don’t follow the rules, said Colleen Madden, who graduated from Boston College with a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2010. “Once every few weeks they would kick someone out. One was a 20-year-old female, and I thought it was ridiculous.”
Madden worked for Hanbleceya from August 2011 until February. Among her duties was delivering medication to clients who had been suspended and essentially were homeless.
“Some went to halfway houses, some slept on the ground and under a bridge,” she said. “It was shocking to me. You don’t hear about this in the field of psychology.”
She said few staff members were trained to handle psychotic episodes, and one untrained employee was fired for giving the wrong medication to a client.
Madden also is concerned that Hanbleceya employs a convicted sex offender as a house manager who deals with clients daily. Danielle Lacey, a former teacher, admitted in 2006 to having sex with a 16-year-old student multiple times and supplying him with cocaine and alcohol. Lacey was hired in 2011 by Hanbleceya in La Mesa, while she still was on probation for four felony convictions.
She declined to comment. Wolds wouldn’t comment about any employees.
Madden was shocked when told that Hanbleceya charged clients as much as $32.50 an hour for one-on-one services. She said she earned only $12 an hour providing that type of care and other services.
Madden said she was fired in February because, against company policy, she allowed a client with a staph infection who was sent to the hospital to call her parents.
New state investigation
After The Times published a July 29 story about citizens’ concerns with the Normandy Park group homes and the state Department of Health received other information about Hanbleceya, the agency opened a second investigation into the company.
In June, in response to a city complaint, the agency had investigated the company by merely looking at its website and talking on the phone to a low-level employee, then determined Hanbleceya didn’t need to be licensed.
Tim Church, DOH spokesman, wouldn’t provide details about the current investigation. Wolds said he met with two investigators who also toured one of the homes.
In a letter to DOH, which the DeVilles provided to a reporter, they complained that Wolds had given their son inadequate care. The DOH referred their complaint to the Examining Board of Psychology, which is investigating. DOH received another complaint about Wolds on Sept. 10.
The Department of Social and Health Services also continues its own investigation to determine if Hanbleceya is an adult family home that falls under its jurisdiction.
If both agencies determine they have no authority over Hanbleceya, the city of Normandy Park plans to ask state lawmakers to pursue legislation to require licensing and monitoring of places like Hanbleceya.
Normandy Park Cares, a citizens group, is challenging the city’s administrative decision that allows Hanbleceya to operate group homes for the mentally ill in residential areas.
An examiner will conduct a hearing to determine if the city’s zoning should be modified. A date has yet to be set.
Christine Willmsen: 206-464-3261 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Christinesea. News researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.