HUNGRY RESIDENTS of Ivy Ridge Personal Care Center - who were mentally ill, handicapped and elderly - walked the streets of Roxborough in search of food and drink, neighbors say.
With their hair askew, some with head lice and bedsores, their clothes filthy and disheveled, they'd stand - sometimes shoeless - outside gas stations, Stanley's Hardware Store, a 7-Eleven or Dunkin' Donuts and panhandle daily to get food money.
"If you didn't know better, you would have thought they were homeless," said Sgt. Eric Williford, of Roxborough's 5th District, who was called by businesses to return the residents to Ivy Ridge.
"It's always been a problem," said Williford, who served in the district for 10 of the past 14 years.
On Tuesday, the feds finally ordered Ivy Ridge closed on Aug. 10, although only two residents may be still there, compared to 50 or 60 at its peak.
Owner Rosalind S. Lavin was fined $700,000 and banned from ever operating a patient-, personal-or residential-care facility, or running a program or facility that receives federal health-care funds. Lavin's three other personal care homes were closed in 2000-2001.
Now, neighbors are in an uproar that Lavin may turn the facility into a flophouse.
Last Sunday, flyers were circulated on Ridge Avenue during the international bike race offering rooms for rent.
"For Rent" and "For Sale" signs are in the window of the building.
The city's Department of Licenses and Inspections, which inspects building and fire-code violations, is investigating the Ivy Ridge situation today, according to an L&I spokesman.
Attorney Kelly Erb, past president of the Roxborough Development Corporation, called the building an "eyesore," with its roof leaking and sloping gutters.
"It needs a lot of work," said, Erb, who had hoped that "something nicer" might be built in its place.
For nearly 20 years, neighbors, city and state authorities had tried to close down Ivy Ridge - a stucturally unsafe building - where the feds said that residents received insufficient food, limited medical care, intermittent dispensing of medicine, and lived in filthy clothes and bed linens.
A former aide at Ivy Ridge, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, "The food was terrible, I wouldn't feed it to a dog. The residents used to complain."
The aide, who received $5.15 per hour with no health insurance for five years, said, "The people were nasty to the residents. Lavin had a lot of violations, the state was always coming. She didn't care for the residents. . . . She was a cold-hearted person."
Bob Poulson, 66, a neighbor and Democratic committeeman, felt so sorry for the residents that he and others dropped off bags of clothes on the doorstep of the facility on Ridge near Kingsley Street.
If do-gooders tried to enter, they faced a heavy blast of foul smelling urine, then were ordered by staff to leave the facility, said Paulson.
On sweltering nights, a neighbor said, residents slept outside in a gazebo, because the interior was not air-conditioned. Some residents, possibly off their medicines, screamed through the night, said another neighbor.
But Lavin and her late husband, Robert, played the system, appealing every violation for years until the feds finally put a stop to it this week. According to statements in a June 6 settlement agreement, Lavin had been pocketing the residents' Social Security and disability checks, which were used to fund the Lavins' luxurious lifestyle.
Lavin owns a 14-room mansion, with swimming pool and tennis court, in her gated Villanova estate called "Lionsgate," adorned with benches, sculptures and a babbling brook. She also owns an aircraft and has a real-estate portfolio including multi-million-dollar homes in Florida and New Jersey. She could not be reached for comment yesterday.
If Lavin treated the poor badly, she also treated her well-off tenants in Florida with a "vindictive, venal" attitude as well, said a source familiar with Lavin's real-estate holdings.
During the winter of '06-'07, a wealthy family rented Lavin's opulent 3,100 square-foot, $2 million apartment with crystal chandelier, marble floors, three bedrooms and a 3,000-foot-long balcony overlooking the Intercoastal Waterway at the Toscana, a condominuium complex in Island Beach, Florida, said the source.
Lavin refused to return a $10,000 deposit, even though the family paid $10,000 a month, or $40,000 for the season, said the source.
The family had to sue to get their security deposit, even though the owner, known as the "witch" at the Toscana, lived only a few miles away in a $5 million estate, said the source.