A Ministry of Neglect

State Shuts Down Adult Home Run by Reverend Clarence Norman Sr.

Armed with more than $4 million in city and state funds, one of Brooklyn's most prominent ministers pledged in 1991 to create a new home for the most vulnerable of the city's homeless, those with mental disabilities.

Pacific House, an 80-room facility constructed from a renovated Bedford Stuyvesant apartment house, would end the hopeless cycle of streets, shelters, and hospitals for its residents, said founder Reverend Clarence Norman Sr. Counseling, therapy, recreation, and training would steer them back into society.

But nine years later, state officials have ruled that the health and well-being of Pacific House's residents is best served by closing the institution.

The move follows a lengthy history of massive health and safety violations at the facility.

Records show that, starting in 1993, inspectors cited Pacific House for having cracked floor tiles, roach and rodent infestations, filthy bathrooms, and overflowing trash cans.

Pacific House

Although their building was filled with easily confused residents, administrators ignored state orders—for six years in a row—to comply with a city law requiring at least one staff member to have a certificate of fire safety.

Inspectors also faulted how residents were evaluated and treated. Medications were often mismanaged and records frequently incomplete and sometimes contradictory. One resident was listed in a 1997 file as an active drug abuser whose adjustment to the supposedly drug-free home was "good."

In 1999, state inspectors found a complete lack of supervision, with residents "wandering aimlessly" into and out of the building.

Year after year, inspectors invoked ever harsher language to describe the facility, warning that it faced fines and license revocation if violations weren't fixed immediately.

But little changed and no fines were imposed. For three years running, records show, Reverend Norman failed to respond to the reports.

The order to close the facility didn't come until after a group of residents themselves sought legal help. Using their own cameras to record conditions, the residents helped attorneys file suit to compel Reverend Norman to clean and repair the building, or find someone who would.

Instead, the state Department of Health decided to shut it down.

Records show that, starting in 1993, inspectors cited Pacific House for having cracked floor tiles, roach and rodent infestations, filthy bathrooms, and overflowing trash cans.

All this month, vans have been removing residents and their slim belongings from the four-story building at 1140 Pacific Street, taking them to facilities as far away as the Rockaways. The move has left many fearful and confused. Others are bitter.

"I think now Pacific House should never have been built," said Igan Potts, 30, who lived there for seven years. "All it is, is a place to get cash out of the government."

Potts and other residents blamed staff indifference at Pacific House for contributing to the recent deaths of two women.

One of them, a woman in her sixties named Martha Curlett, suffering from diabetes and often incontinent, spent her days sitting in a nightgown on the house's crumbling steps, begging for change, they said.

"She'd be sitting there, in all kinds of weather, pissy wet, saying, 'Mommy . . . Poppy? Gotta quarter? Gotta cigarette?' " said resident Clara Taylor.

George Gitlitz, an organizer for the Coalition of Institutionalized Aged and Disabled who visited the home regularly, said he recalled seeing Curlett "sitting with holes in her shoes" on the stoop shortly before Christmas.

"I gave her a dollar," he said. "I think she died a week or so later."

The state's independent Commission on the Quality of Care said it is investigating Curlett's death and that of Rhonda Tucker, who died last year.

James Frederick, Pacific House's current administrator, declined to comment specifically about the deaths. "A person is diabetic, they shouldn't eat those rich foods, soda. We can't control the residents," he said, leaning against a van parked in front of the building, where several residents had spent the past hour pacing back and forth on the stoop.

"This isn't a happy process for anybody," he said.

In a signed stipulation agreeing to close the facility, Norman, 70, blamed "insufficient cash flow" for the violations.

But the project's financial status is unclear. The program has never been audited, state officials said. There are also no recent financial statements to review because the nonprofit organization has failed to file required annual reports since 1995, according to the state attorney general.

But a steady flow of money went into the building. In addition to city and state loans of about $4.6 million, Pacific House collected $830 a month in rent from each resident's federal disability check.

Still, bills went unpaid. City officials say that since 1992 Reverend Norman has failed to make payments on a $2.3 million loan. State tax officials have filed more than $200,000 in liens against Pacific House for not paying payroll and other taxes. And federal tax authorities have placed a $68,000 lien against Reverend Norman personally, records show.

Myra Gibson served on a residents' council to improve conditions.

Whatever their source, Pacific House's problems were not caused by a lack of political clout. Reverend Norman, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Crown Heights, is the father of Assemblyman Clarence Norman Jr., the powerful chairman of the Kings County Democratic Committee.

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