Walton and other sober living operators who use similar means to get their money said they cannot trust tenants to pay their rent.
"We had to try to do something to get paid," he said. "A lot of these guys get the check and that's the last we see of them."
Before moving in, Winona House residents are told to sign papers authorizing the house management to cash their welfare checks. But according to county welfare spokeswoman Carol Matsui, it is not "proper or legal" to require a welfare recipient "to sign something authorizing somebody else to sign . . . a general relief check."
Residents in many sober homes are receiving larger welfare payments than they should and the money is being passed on to the operators as rent.
According to interviews, many residents on general relief claim they are eligible for the maximum allowable $341 monthly payment. However, welfare officials say that the maximum payment is intended only for recipients who are not sharing a household. The payments are supposed to be revised downward if recipients are sharing a household or a room, as most sober living residents do.
Based on a sliding scale provided by the county, it appears that many sober living residents should be receiving as little as $147 a month, instead of $341.
"It's almost impossible to police this situation," said Matsui.
She said welfare officials rely on recipients and their landlords to disclose in sworn statements whether accommodations are shared.
Complaints of Abuse
Anyone--ex-convicts, recovering addicts, alcoholics--can manage a sober living home because there are no minimum job qualifications. Yet they wield extraordinary power over their houses and their residents.
One resident of a sober living home in Altadena complained to police Sept. 20 that he was beaten, dragged and bound for two hours by the manager during a dispute over property missing from the premises. The manager has been booked on misdemeanor assault charges.
At a sober living home on the fringes of downtown Los Angeles, a homeless mother of three was grateful for shelter until, she complained to police, the manager pulled her into his bedroom and raped her. The case remains under investigation.
Coeducational homes are discouraged by professionals. "Women are extremely vulnerable to the potential for sexual abuse and other types of exploitation," said Charles Hayes, a state-paid consultant to sober living operators.
State drug treatment officials said they have opened an investigation into allegations against Dana Burgess, the male operator of the all-female Genesis House in Van Nuys, who has been accused of demanding sexual favors from some former residents. Burgess denied the allegations, calling them "malicious rumors."
Burgess, a former heroin addict, is licensed as a marriage and family counselor and calls himself "Doctor."
However, state officials said he cannot legally use that title because he is not a licensed psychologist. Burgess disagreed, saying that he can call himself "Doctor" because he has a doctorate in psychology.
Another operator, Lonnie Patrick, has no license and no background in counseling, but that has not stopped him from offering a full range of "rehabilitation services" to the men in South-Central Los Angeles.
Patrick said he kicked a 50-year coke habit and fulfilled a promise to God to open a club for recovering addicts.
With his own tools and hands, he transformed the old Peyton Place dance hall into the Natural High Club. The dance floor where James Brown and the Stylistics once performed is used for group meetings of addicts. The alcoves above were converted into cell-like rooms, some with ragged holes in the ceilings. For $280 a month, men sleep on pallets.
Patrick welcomes his guests with a mandatory 30- to 60-day lock down, barring them from leaving the house, even to look for work. Residents must also submit to random urine testing, even though his facility needs to be licensed as a recovery home to require such tests.
"I got convicted murderers, bank robbers, all sorta bad guys coming here. Sometimes I go down and get them right from the judge," Patrick said. "I got all kind of potential violent people. We got to be strict."
There are 37 rules in all, ranging from no drugs or alcohol to "No climbing threw (sic) the roof." Patrick punishes offenders by banishing them to the streets of South-Central for up to three days at a time. Those ejected from the program are given 72 hours to remove their belongings before Patrick confiscates them.
"If they had some money," said Patrick, "these people wouldn't come here, no how."
Patrick, who has so far escaped scrutiny of state agencies, said Tuesday that he has applied for all necessary licenses for his facility. County assessor's records still describe his operation on Western Avenue as a restaurant and nightclub.