For at least six years, Crescent House, a Fort Lauderdale group home for teenage boys, was the source of constant calls to the police. Neighbors found crack cocaine baggies littering the streets and said that kids pelted their cars with rocks. This summer, the city finally shut down the facility, which was run by Chrysalis Health, a for-profit company.
But similar issues still persist at the five other group homes run by Chrysalis, Broward County public defenders say. “When I’ve visited in the past, I was shocked at the manner in which these homes are being run,” Chief Assistant Public Defender Gordon Weekes says. “The lack of supervision, the autonomy that these children have to go out whenever they want, wherever they want… The kids could literally sleep all day and not go to school.”
Kids who end up in a group home are typically there because they’ve been abandoned, abused, or neglected by their families, so placing them in a situation where they have minimal oversight and receive little in the way of therapeutic treatment is a recipe for disaster. (New Times documented the consequences, including rampant drug use and teen prostitution, in a lengthy investigation last year.)
“We’re talking about kids that are really on the cusp,” Weekes says. “They just shut them down and marginalize them, and as a result, they detach.”
Meanwhile, as the city of Fort Lauderdale has been working to shut down Crescent House, Chrysalis Health executive director Manuel Menendez bought a mansion. According to Miami-Dade County property records, Menendez and his wife own a waterfront four-bedroom home in Coral Gables, which is valued just short of $1 million, as well as a South Miami mansion that’s currently for sale for $2.25 million.
The listing on Zillow.com notes that it has six bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a home office, and a theater. Oh, and a “resort-style pool area” with a changing cabana, wet bar, outdoor kitchen, and tennis and basketball courts. So $2.25 million is a pretty good deal, considering.
Reached by phone, Menendez initially declined to comment, then admitted that he’d purchased the house with the intention of flipping it. “I’m a real estate investor,” he said. “I haven’t gotten a raise from Chrysalis in fifteen years.” Furthermore, he added, the money the company makes off group homes doesn’t even cover its administrative costs. (According to tax filings, Chrysalis receives more than $3 million a year from ChildNet, the nonprofit that contracts with the state to handle child welfare services in Broward and Palm Beach, for running residential group homes.)
Menendez also claims that the City of Fort Lauderdale’s decision to shut down Crescent House was motivated by complaints from neighbors who were solely concerned about the group home’s impact on their property values.
“Most of them don’t even live there — they’re just investing in the real estate,” he said. “It’s unfortunate because these kids need a place to go.”