In a string of six brick apartment buildings called Hope Village, Joan and David Sutton have created an unusual complex of human services. Within the Southeast Washington apartments and in two nearby residences, they care for white-collar criminals, ex-offenders, former mental patients, drug addicts, alcoholics and the elderly.
Every year they sign contracts with the District government, the Veterans Administration and other federal agencies to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars for housing and treating the sick, aged or those who have committed crimes. But ever since the first apartments opened seven years ago, the quality of care has been questioned.
Inspectors from the Service Facility Regulation Administration routinely cite the homes for unsanitary conditions, insufficient heat, overcrowded rooms with bunk beds for adults, paltry servings of food and problems with medical supervision, records show.
Since 1978, reports on the facility chronicle findings of soiled linens, rodents, roaches and lack of staff. An investigation in 1982 found only a skeletal staff -- a director and two employes -- on duty to handle 96 residents in Caldwell House, one of the nearby residences, on the weekends.
Joan Sutton, who defends the care at her facilities, notes that they shelter many people, such as schizophrenics, whom others don't want. She said Caldwell House was not understaffed. "Unless they came in when it was vacation time, it could never be," she said.
The major enforcement action against the home occurred last August, when the U.S. Office of Parole and Probation found so many problems with Hope Village's drug program -- including aides selling and using drugs and transporting residents to Georgetown and elsewhere to buy cocaine, heroin and PCP -- that it threatened to drop its contract unless improvements were made in 10 days. The federal office paid Hope Village $165,000 last year for a drug detoxification program for prisoners.
Hope Village responded quickly. "Mrs. Sutton fired all the employes named in the notice," said Jud Watkins, supervising U.S. probation officer. Federal inspectors were then given a door key in order to make surprise inspections. Last November, they found residents in one building had no heat, a problem that city inspectors have noted several times since 1979.
After corrections were made, the federal government renewed its contract. "It was the best price," said Robert Altman, director of drug programs for the U.S. Probation Office. Hope Village charges under $100 a day. "The same program in a hospital costs hundreds of dollars a day," he said.
Despite the continuing violations, Hope Village receives a license each year. "Hope Village is making improvements," said Frances Bowie, the District's licensing chief. "They've always turned in an acceptable plan of correction."