Hennepin County treated about 50 street people in a chemical dependency program to $60 seats at the recent Vikings-Packers game at the Metrodome, prompting County Board Chairman Mike Opat to seek an investigation by the county's internal audit committee.
Together with $60 tickets for another group of 50 to attend the Vikings' preseason game against Kansas City, the county's Street Case Management Project has spent $6,004 for football tickets this year, Opat said Friday.
"I can understand, for a group of clients living on the edge, where you might have a pot of money for group outings," he said. "But I think it's a little extravagant to take folks to a Vikings game at 60 bucks a ticket."
Opat also questioned the wisdom of using an NFL game, where beer sales are common, to entertain people typically struggling with alcoholism and frequent visits to detox facilities and emergency rooms.
He said he didn't know whether any of the program's clients had anything to drink at either game.
"It crosses a common sense line for me," Opat said. "It's a judgment call, but for most people it's beyond what's appropriate."
He said he also was told that participants in the program went to a Vikings game last year, although that was unconfirmed.
The Street Case Management program, which began in 1996, uses peer pressure and one-on-one meetings with staffers to help homeless alcoholics cut back on their drinking or stop altogether.
According to the county website, the program since its inception has helped participants cut their detox runs by 60 to 80 percent and their use of emergency rooms by about 50 percent, saving the county millions. The program typically has 60 to 70 clients.
Last year, it received a $400,000 grant from the Minnesota Human Services Department.
On Friday, Opat forwarded a memo on the ticket matter, along with a warrant request and invoice for the tickets, to county audit officials. He said he understood that the money for the tickets came from an account funded by a state grant and earmarked for "group outings or incentives."
"In light of this, and dwindling state funding for almost every county service, I ask that Internal Audit conduct a review of the Street Case Management program," he wrote the audit committee.
"Even if it complies with the letter of the grant, I don't think it complies with the spirit," Opat said Friday.
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455