Appalling Abuse at Christian Group Home

This is the kind of story that turns your stomach. A couple in Southern California that runs a pair of Christian group homes for the mentally and physically disabled kept them in what a court calls terrible conditions and forced them to attend religious services, punishing them if they didn’t.

Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer filed a lawsuit against Agape Mission House and Agape Home Church, unlicensed assisted-care facilities, alleging that residents lived in overcrowded and substandard conditions.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge last Friday appointed a receiver to immediately begin relocating residents from the homes in the 2200 block of South Hobart Boulevard.

The suit names Kang Won Lee and Jung Hwan Lee, a husband and wife, as operators of the facilities, both registered as charities. Neither of the Lees could be reached for comment.

Residents were punished for failing to attend religious services twice a day regardless of their individual beliefs, court documents said. The punishments allegedly included being made to stand by a tree for up to four hours, translate Bible verses for an entire day and sleep outside at night.

“He calls himself pastor and does force all the residents to attend religious services,” said Assistant City Atty. Jose Egurbide, adding that the two homes were packed with “as many as 80 residents.”

Court records described swarms of flies, broken furniture and missing bedroom doors. Some residents slept in bunk beds crowded into small rooms with 1-inch pads instead of mattresses. One resident lived in a “storage room” and others in an attic.

“These residents are among the most vulnerable in our society and they were forced to live a daily nightmare,” Feuer said. “We are bringing that nightmare to a close.”

I don’t know about California, but some states exempt religious facilities of this type, and day care centers, from regulation and oversight on religious freedom grounds.

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  • Jackie, all dressed in black

    State social workers (at least in my state) are only required to do home visits once every six months. I’ve met children who have been locked in basements or abused in state placement. I prefer private agencies because they often require more frequent visits to the home and more training for their families, though I have had a worker park in my driveway, talk to me briefly and call it a home visit. Children are not much safer with private placement companies. With state funding slashed and most workers ridiculously overburdened, this is the obvious outcome and it isn’t likely to change. I know children are being placed in inappropriate and unsafe homes. I also know that the states are more concerned with covering their asses than they are with the safety of children in the system. Group homes often force religion on kids and teens and mental institutions seem little more than pounds with drugs for troubled children. The sad fact is, these kids do come out of unsafe homes and the foster system is necessary. Most people involved in care do care deeply about the kids, but they are powerless to change the system. Most burn out. I’m nearly there, myself.

  • cry4turtles

    Where to begin with solutions, Jackie? Obviously money is involved, but the burout of good people is a true tragedy. Your anecdote is quite profound.

  • The Lees are Korean. I wonder how many of their clients were from the Korean community, and if a possible language barrier between the residents and the inspectors may have delayed this being discovered.

  • Erp

    I don’t think there is a religious exemption for these sorts of homes in California. Certainly there is not for child care (the only exemptions are for care by close relatives, co-op care [group of families rotate child care amongst themselves], or the carer is caring for the children of a single family [e.g., nanny]).

    According to one article they had previously been cited for not being licensed. They then obtained a license to care for six people in one house but then surrendered it after repeated citations. Part of the problem is that for at least some of the residents it seems to have been this or the streets (or so they think and I can’t say whether that is incorrect or not). Cities try to sweep the problem of the homeless (ill or not) to the next city, counties to the next country, and state to the next state.

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