Dakota County is finalizing plans to provide much-needed housing for two dozen homeless men, filling a hole left when Cochran House, a year-round emergency shelter for single men, closed in late 2017.
"We've felt a real lack of capacity [since] Cochran closed down and we've seen that impact on people," said Madeline Kastler, Dakota County housing manager. "This will really fill a … gap in a system."
While Cochran House in Hastings housed more than 30 men in one building, the new plan is to accommodate up to 24 men in four single-family homes scattered across the county.
The houses will be run by Frazier Recovery Homes, a company that already provides state-funded sober living housing sites for homeless men in Dakota County. It also offers sober living facilities through contracts with other counties.
The contract with the county should be finalized in early March, said Franki Rezek, Frazier's owner and a licensed clinical social worker, adding that she's already put in an offer to buy a house in Dakota County. The county will pay Frazier nearly $480,000 annually, to be covered by a state grant extending through August 2022, Kastler said.
Dakota County funds three shelters catering to families, single women and domestic violence victims. A seasonal shelter, operated by nonprofit Matrix Housing Services, rotates among various church sites during the winter months. Men are welcome, but the shelter typically offers only an evening meal and a place to sleep at night.
The Frazier houses will benefit homeless men in ways that the Cochran setup did not, Rezek said.
"This is real living, living in the community," Rezek said. "That model works."
Rezek said she believes that using single-family homes as emergency housing for the homeless, rather than group shelters, is unique to Minnesota.
Kenny Johnson, a former homeless person who had been house coordinator for Cochran House, was crushed when the shelter closed due to financial problems. But he likes Frazier's "scattered site" plan, he said, and will manage the four houses for Frazier.
Frazier buys quality houses in nice neighborhoods, Johnson said. Living with roommates and doing everyday tasks such as cooking meals will make the men more responsible and independent.
"It gives them a little bit more self-worth," he said.
Homelessness is an ongoing issue in the Twin Cities suburbs, and Dakota County is no exception. The county's low apartment vacancy rate — about 3 percent — makes things even harder.
The problem can be even worse for men, who sometimes have trouble asking for help. They also struggle more than women with undiagnosed mental illness and unaddressed substance abuse or trauma, Rezek said. Some are just getting out of prison, she added.
While living in the Frazier houses, the men will receive case management services and counseling. The goal is to eventually move them into permanent housing, she said.
Rezek said she's dealt with neighborhood opposition when she first buys a home and residents move in. But her homes are well-monitored and maintained, she said, and eventually tensions subside.
"Over time, neighbors will embrace these folks," she said.