South St. Paul seeking assistance with group homes from Dakota County

The South St. Paul City Council approved Aug. 20 a request to seek assistance from Dakota County to address the impacts in the city related to housing support facilities, more commonly known as group homes.

The need for help was highlighted by a late-July shooting at a South St. Paul group home in which two city police officers were shot and wounded by a resident with a shotgun.

New City Administrator Joel Hanson said there are a number of such facilities in the city — South St. Paul, along with West St. Paul, contain half the group homes in all of Dakota County.

“They provide obviously a much-needed social service and safety net for a number of people, senior citizens and people of various disabilities,” Hanson said, noting the facilities also have a significant impact on taxpayers and public services in South St. Paul.

Hanson said the council asked city staff to draft a resolution for consideration by the Dakota County Board of Commissioners to seek some assistance in dealing with issues associated with group homes so the city not only meets the needs of the homes’ residents, but also the rest of the city’s residents. 

Police Chief Bill Messerich and Chief Mike Pott with South Metro Fire helped put together some basic comments, Hanson said. The city is asking the county to help “put boots on the ground” in South St. Paul to better deal with social services issues and provide more day-to-day oversight. 

Hanson said there could be an adjustment to the county’s housing support payment, which is currently $893 a month. 

“The reason there is a higher concentration of these properties in South St. Paul is those reimbursements work here, because of our lower rents [vs.] a lot of other metro area communities,” Hanson said. Adjusting that reimbursement could allow the city to work in more areas and meet more people’s needs, he added. 

Another recommendation is for the county to have greater oversight control of providers to make sure services are being provided as outlined.

 

Not a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction

Council member Tom Seaberg said the city has little control over where group homes end up locating. 

He said if the city can’t convince the Legislature to do other things, it has to work through Dakota County, which acts as a social agency and often places residents in northern Dakota County. 

“We think it’s only fair that we get some help with that. We’re not encouraging a payment per person or anything like that. We’re just pointing out the facts,” Seaberg said. 

Council member Joe Forester said the move is not a “knee-jerk” reaction to the recent shooting.

“The chief has been talking to us about this since I came on the council a year and a half ago,” Forester said. “This is a problem he’s been talking to Dakota County about for a number of years. Unfortunately it took a very serious event before it really got some traction to get some attention to it.”

Forester added the cites of South St. Paul and West St. Paul are paying “an enormous price” for the number of group homes in each city.

Council member Lori Hansen said the resolution was the first step in making the city better for all who live there.

 

– Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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