Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) Commissioner Lucinda E. Jesson announced Wednesday the state intends to move forward with plans to move individuals into a Nokay Lake group home for people with disabilities.
Kathy Stevens, a Nokay Lake Township supervisor and adjoining neighbor of the group home, expressed disappointment at the decision.
“Obviously, they’re not taking the safety of the residents seriously,” she said. “I’m really disgusted.”
Stevens, who operates a day care at her home, said the location is not the best for the clients, either, because of its remote location. She said state officials told her the facility would employ 16 people and would be rented for $2,100 a month.
“How can you fight the state?” she asked. “They stuck it in here without telling a soul. They’ve done everything they can to deter a good relationship with the neighbors.”
In a letter addressed to Nokay Lake Township residents, Jesson said the DHS has put safeguards in place to address neighbors’ concerns.
“We agree with feedback from the community that this property is not well-suited for individuals who have past involvement with the criminal justice system, nor is it well-suited for individuals who are medically fragile,” she wrote. “To ensure this cannot occur we will ask Crow Wing County to add a condition to our license specifically preventing such placements.”
An evaluation of the program, with community input, will be conducted at the end of the second year of operation to determine how it is working, according to Jesson’s letter. The DHS commissioner also said that in response to community feedback, the department will review and update its procedures for the future selection of sites as well as its notification procedures when a new property is purchased.
Several Nokay Lake Township residents voiced objections to the location of the group home at a July 24 meeting at the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse.
Roger A. Deneen, director of Minnesota State Operated Community Services, said at that meeting that had he known a day care was near the group home he would have moved on to another site. He said at that meeting he would ask Commissioner Jesson to rescind the decision. The move was put on hold a day after the meeting was conducted, until Wednesday’s decision.
Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, who had expressed concerns to DHS about the group home, described the outcome as a compromise that was OK.
“I’m appreciative the Department of Human Services put some restrictions on who will be residing there,” he said. “It’s a trial run.”
He said he supported providing community-based services in an appropriate setting and noted that despite initial objections, Baxter’s community-based facility is seen as an asset for people with special needs. He also said he thinks that while everyone won’t be satisfied with the decision, the dialogue between the community and DHS was productive.
“They (DHS) are going to be more proactive in their search of homes,” he said. “They understand the need to be transparent. They understand the need to be accountable. They understand the need to work with the folks in the area.”
He urged everyone to be open-minded and evaluate the situation in the future.