Burnsville asks for help with group homes

  • Article by: KATIE HUMPHREY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 7, 2012 - 10:02 PM

The city plans to lobby the Legislature for help with governing adult group homes, citing a drain on police resources.

Sometimes the calls come multiple times a day.

A resident with physical or developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injuries has wandered away from a group home for adults, and the staff asks Burnsville police to find the missing person.

"We might get three or four calls the same day on the same person," Police Chief Bob Hawkins said. "It really started to drain our resources."

The challenges with adult group homes, also known as adult foster homes, came to the fore as the city discussed its 2012 budget. Hawkins, who stressed that the police work to keep everyone safe, pointed to increased calls to group homes for things that could be handled differently -- for example, when residents are angry with one another or staff members, or false reports, neighbors' complaints about loud music or repeated calls about people leaving the facility.

Such calls accounted for 78 of the 230 police calls to group homes in 2011. That's up from 2009, when just 12 of the 239 calls to group homes were for the same types of incidents.

"That takes a lot of time away from true police service and adds a heck of a burden to law enforcement staff and their duties," Burnsville City Council Member Bill Coughlin said during a recent meeting with local legislators.

A new position in the city's 2012 legislative platform requests state help in regulating the concentration of group homes in neighborhoods or cities because of the cost and stress on city services.

"The impact to a neighborhood is pretty detrimental if two or three [group homes] cluster together," Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said, raising concerns about property values and the city's goal of having more owner-occupied homes.

Burnsville isn't the first city to try to restrict group homes, some licensed, some not.

Minneapolis and St. Paul have ordinances that aim to prevent concentrations of group homes, but suburbs so far do not, though not for lack of trying. There is currently a statewide moratorium on one type of group homes known as licensed corporate adult foster care facilities.

"It's been something that's come up more in the past year," Rep. Tara Mack, R-Apple Valley, told Burnsville council members, offering to work with them to find a solution, given her experience on the House human services committees. "It needs to be about prioritizing the level of care for these folks, but also make sure we're partnering with the people that should be doing these jobs and taking care of people."

But Bruce Nelson of the Association of Residential Resources in Minnesota, an organization that represents group home providers, said trying to limit the locations of those facilities is wrong.

"Would a community that is seeing an influx of people of color or another non-Caucasian ethnicity move to control the concentration, if you will, of those folks?" Nelson said. "Why are people with disabilities any different than anybody else in having a right to live in our neighborhoods that belong to all of us?"

He said there are hundreds of adult foster care facilities across the state that aim to be good neighbors, take care of their residents and keep everyone safe.

"Sometimes that's a tricky balancing act," he said, adding that communication with local officials and law enforcement is key.

Hawkins, the Burnsville police chief, and the officer he has assigned to group home-related calls and follow-up have been working on that and learning more about the providers and residents who live in local facilities.

The city has 59 licensed adult foster care homes and an unknown number of unlicensed facilities housing dozens of residents, many of them scattered across the city in apartment buildings and townhouses.

The police have offered to work with group home providers on additional training for staff and on helping them learn how to defuse a tense situation. So far, at least, the home operators have been responsive.

"They acknowledged this is something we want to work on," Hawkins said. "As we continue to work with these folks, the No. 1 priority is the health and safety of the folks that need the service."

Katie Humphrey • 952-746-3286

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