Concerned citizens who attended a recent informational meeting respectfully learned about a new Spring Lake Park adult foster home location. Council members recently learned residents living near 7929 Jackson St. N.E. aren’t happy a four-bed adult foster care facility is coming to their neighborhood. Residents who attended a Sept. 21 council meeting asked city leaders and staff why Duluth-based At Home Living Facilities, Inc. was allowed to site the home in their neighborhood.
City Administrator Barbara Nelson and City Attorney Jeff Carson were present during the hour and 15 minute meeting Oct. 6. No council members attended.
Nelson asked the 35 to 40 residents who were present to keep their questions and comments brief. She also introduced two Anoka County representatives.
Bill Pinsonnault, Anoka County’s community social services and mental health department director, provided foster home background for residents.
Darrin Helt, Anoka County Human Services manager of mental health and chemical health services, also attended the meeting.
Pinsonnault reviewed a corporate foster care fact sheet. He also shared information about current foster homes located in the county.
Currently there are 114 corporate foster homes in Anoka County that serve persons with disabilities, Pinsonnault said. This is in addition to about 190 child and family foster care homes and another 64 adult family foster homes located within Anoka County’s communities. In family foster care, the owner lives at the residence, he said.
According to Pinsonnault, corporate foster homes similar to the one that will be located on Jackson Street have around the clock shift coverage. Individuals are placed in foster care because of their inability to live independently due to age, vulnerability or severity of disability, Pinson-nault said.
A recent state audit indicated Anoka County needed 15 to 20 additional adult foster homes to care for 55 individuals who were living outside the county, he said.
Anoka County social workers identify individuals with a need for corporate foster care, Pinsonnault said. Family members and professionals are often involved in that process.
When the decision is made to establish a home, a letter of interest is sent to potential, preferred foster providers describing clients’ needs, according to Pinsonnault.
“We sit down and do a review, and make sure a provider is a good match,” Pinson-nault said. “The county does the placement but stays out of the site location selection.”
The federal Fair Housing Act prevents the county or a city from interfering with that process. Once a provider purchases a home, the licensing process can start.
Homes similar to the one that will be located on Jackson Street are limited to four beds but are allowed a fifth bed on an emergency basis for respite care, Pinsonnault said.
Five days before the foster home is scheduled to open, Pinsonnault said local police and city officials are notified a group home will be coming to the community.
“[Again], local governments don’t have any role in the site selection or approval,” he said. “If they interfere, they can be sued for violating the Fair Housing Act.”
According to Pinsonnault, the county can’t publish any information about where adult foster homes are located because that would also violate the 1988 law.
Pinsonnault said the law clearly states local government can’t impose special restrictions or requirements or ordinances preventing an adult foster home.
“Persons with mental health disabilities are no different than you or I,” he said. “There is an 85 to 90 percent recovery rate with proper treatment and medication”
Pinsonnault said there will not be mentally ill and dangerous residents or sex offenders of any level or kind moving into the Jackson Street foster care home.
The home will not be a correctional facility, he said, nor will the four-bed facility become a sober house or a chemical dependency treatment facility. If there are problems in a neighborhood, Anoka County is called to work with the foster home provider. Typically, the No. 1 problem is parking, Pinsonnault said.
The county can issue a corrective action, he said. The county can issue a provisional license and if all else fails; the county can revoke the license.
Residents asked what would happen if an adult foster home was closed down. Pinsonnault said the home would be placed on the market and sold.
During the meeting, residents asked about two existing foster homes near the Jackson Street location, one at the corner of 81st Avenue and one at 7701 Able St. Pinsonnault said any complaints filed about those homes would be public data. “But personal health information about a resident can’t be shared,” he said.
Maria Runyan, At Home Living’s administrator, spoke next with residents. She began her comments by stating At Home Living wanted open dialogue. “We are being upfront with you,” Runyan, said. “That’s a difficult choice for us. We don’t want you to judge these people [residents] before you meet them.”
Runyan said the Jackson Street foster home would most likely have female residents, but homes can have a mixed-gender population in certain circumstances.
She added that Spring Lake Park residents’ attendance at the meeting was a positive and that overcoming a fear of the unknown was an important first step.
Runyan also confirmed there would be no more than four residents in the home and there would be 24-hour staff on hand, with two staff scheduled during the day.
Barry Schull is At Home Living Facilities Anoka County program director. Schull recently moved from Duluth and is responsible for the provider’s five homes.
Schull told residents the Jackson Street foster care home staff would work eight-hour shifts. Shift change times would be shared with the public, he said.
“We are getting a lot of applications,” Schull said. “Candidates who aren’t a certified nursing assistant (CNA) are moved to the bottom of the applications pile.”
One woman with young children who attended the public information meeting said she was upset by misinformation being spread about the foster home. “It’s the fear of the unknown,” Runyan said.
There are 10 to 12 corporate homes in the Spring Lake Park area that are licensed with the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Runyan and Pinsonnault said.
Several residents asked if At Home Living had received any citations or complaints at its Duluth or Anoka Count foster homes. “We don’t get that many complaints,” Runyan said. “When we do, it’s mostly about parking.
“We did have an issue when a resident urinated in the wooded area of a group home backyard when he went outside to smoke. That problem was quickly resolved when neighborhood residents called. It never happened again.”
City Administrator Barbara Nelson said the Jackson Street foster home would pay residential property taxes and utilities and would be required to observe all city parking regulations.
One woman who had recently moved back to Spring Lake Park said she previously lived in Blaine next to a foster home. She mentioned shift changes and yard maintenance as primary concerns.
However, a man who lives near the foster home on 7701 Able St. said he was moving because of an altercation with a home resident. “It’s been terrible,” the man said. “The police have been there one to two times a week.” The man did thank At Home Living for being open about its foster home.
Pinsonnault said the county would investigate residents’ complaints about the other foster homes.
He also answered a question about property values. “Studies show they never go down when a home comes to a neighborhood,” Pinsonnault said.
Another resident wanted to know what to do if a home resident assaulted a worker. Pinsonnault told residents to call the Anoka County adult protection number (763-422-7070) listed on the fact sheet handed out during the meeting.
Runyan told residents an opening date for the 7929 Jackson St. foster home has not been determined by At Home Living Services.
This article reprinted with permission of ABC Newspapers and Blaine/Spring Lake Park Life. Tim Hennagir is Editor of the Blaine/Spring Lake Park Life