There is no homeless shelter for kids and teens in Dakota County, and local officials are working to change that to fill the gap in social services.
The county is in negotiations to buy a 12-bedroom Mendota Heights property near the intersection of Hwy. 62 and Lexington Avenue that was most recently a residential facility for people with disabilities.
If the purchase goes through, the building would become a temporary shelter serving people between ages 12 and 18. The county would own the shelter but contract with an outside agency for operations.
"There is definitely a need for this kind of local resource," said Evan Henspeter, Dakota County director of social services.
It's not uncommon for youth to experience a family or personal crisis that makes their home unsafe for them — a parent could have a medical crisis or a youth could be struggling with mental health. When crises occur, young people need a safe place to figure out their next steps, he said.
"This happens much more often than any of us would like to think," Henspeter said.
Harbor Shelter for youth in Hastings, which was privately owned and operated but received referrals from the county, closed in 2018 when its owners left the business. That left a hole, officials said.
Since then, county officials have been looking at new shelter locations and potential partnerships but haven't had success, Henspeter said.
Shelter space "is a little bit more of a patchwork right now," said Dakota County Commissioner Laurie Halverson, who represents Lilydale, Mendota, Mendota Heights and Eagan.
Youth are sent to shelters throughout the metro and greater Minnesota, far from their school and friends.
Halverson noted that while the county doesn't now have a youth shelter, it does provide other services for youth in crisis.
Lincoln Place in Eagan offers efficiency apartments to young adults ages 18 to 24 who have experienced homelessness. It is operated by the Dakota County Community Development Agency.
The county expects to partner with Washington County on the shelter, and the county board there has given approval to make a "substantial financial commitment" to the project, but there's been no formal agreement yet, Halverson said.
Henspeter said he expects negotiations to take time, and the County Board would still have to approve the purchase.
County staff want a new shelter space to "have a little bit more of a home feel" than Harbor Lights, which was set up like a dorm. The Mendota Heights property has a good location, 12 bedrooms, extensive grounds and enough open, shared space, Henspeter said.
Some renovations would be needed, including kitchen updates, he said.
The county has been working with the city of Mendota Heights and neighbors of the property, Henspeter said, holding meetings and sending out letters, with the goal of integrating the shelter into the community.
Having a county-owned facility will give county staff and officials input into how it is run and what kind of services and interventions are available, Halverson said.
"We know that people are going to have stumbles in their life," Halverson said. "We need to make sure they have all the tools in place to be safe and be successful."