After a lifetime of abusing drugs, Horace Bush decided at age 62 that getting clean had become a matter of life or death. So Mr. Bush, a homeless man who still tucked in his T-shirts and ironed his jeans, moved to a flophouse in Brooklyn that was supposed to help people like him, cramming into a bedroom the size of a parking space with three other men.
Mr. Bush signed up for a drug-treatment program and emerged nine months later determined to stay sober. But the man who ran the house, Yury Baumblit, a longtime hustler and two-time felon, had other ideas.
Mr. Baumblit got kickbacks on the Medicaid fees paid to the outpatient treatment programs that he forced all his tenants to attend, residents and former employees said. So he gave Mr. Bush a choice: If he wanted to stay, he would have to relapse and enroll in another program. Otherwise, his bed would be given away.
“‘Do what you do’ — that’s what he told me,” Mr. Bush recalled.
Mr. Bush, rail-thin with sad eyes, wanted to avoid the streets and homeless shelters at all costs. He turned to his self-medication of choice: beer, with a chaser of heroin and crack cocaine. Then he enrolled in a new program chosen by Mr. Baumblit.
In the past two and a half years, Mr. Bush has gone through four programs, just to hold onto his upper bunk bed.
Mr. Bush had fallen into a housing netherworld in New York City, joining thousands of other single men and women recovering from addiction or with nowhere to go. The homes are known as “three-quarter” houses, because they are seen as somewhere between regulated halfway houses and actual homes.
Virtually unnoticed and effectively unregulated, the homes have multiplied over the past decade, driven by a push to reduce shelter rolls, a lack of affordable housing and unscrupulous operators.
One government official estimated recently that there could be 600 three-quarter houses in Brooklyn alone. But precise numbers are elusive. The houses open and close all the time, dotting poor neighborhoods mostly in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens.
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