A group of West St. Paul residents oppose plans for a mental health center that would provide residential treatment and crisis services, citing safety concerns.
Officials involved in the project met Thursday night at a community meeting hosted by Dakota County to discuss concerns. More than 80 people showed up.
The crisis and recovery center would be county-owned and operated by Guild, a local not-for-profit mental health service provider. It must open by the end of 2024 to use available public funds.
“I don’t think county officials or the Guild are very open about what their customers are doing,” said Mark Drake, who lives near the proposed site. “For a project like this, let’s do our due diligence and be honest with the neighborhood.”
Other residents questioned why West St. Paul had such a concentration of group homes and social service facilities compared to other towns in Dakota County. Several said the county or city should have done more to notify neighbors of the project, though city officials said they sent out notices to residents within 350 feet of the location, as required by the state law.
Not everyone opposes the new facility.
“We came because we don’t want our neighborhood to be represented by these few loud voices,” said Jessica Mager, a supporter who lives three blocks from the proposed site.
Mayor Dave Napier said at a city council meeting on Monday that he is “leaning in to support” the project because he doesn’t think it will be unsafe.
“If I had felt it was a risk, I wouldn’t have kept him moving like he did. [been]“, said Napier.
Dakota County officials want to build the 16-bed, 16,000-square-foot facility along Livingston Avenue, northeast of the county’s North Service Center. The space is currently a parking lot. Officials said they were not yet certain of the cost of the installation, but previous estimates were $7.6 million.
“Generally, there’s a lot of demand for these community services,” said Emily Schug, the county’s assistant director of social services. “[This] really going to create a new, modern, trauma-informed space.”
The facility would offer people suffering from a mental health crisis a place to stay for up to 10 days and “intensive residential treatment services” – considered a step down from a hospital stay – until at 90 days for longer term stabilization. Receiving care at the center would be voluntary and not court-ordered.
It will also offer walk-in assessments and other services. The center would replace the current facilities at Guild South, three old Victorian houses in South St. Paul that are not handicap accessible.
The project will be funded by $3.4 million in bond funds from the State Department of Human Services, $2.5 million from the U.S. federal bailout and $1.5 million in other government funding. ‘State. The county is seeking $750,000 from other sources, including health systems and foundations, according to a county spokesperson.
Neighbors search for answers
Drake, who lives about 383ft from the centre’s proposed location, said he and other concerned residents were ‘patted on the head’ and told the agency’s clients were not dangerous when They were asking county and Guild officials questions.
He said members of his group “feel great compassion” for people with serious mental illness.
“Our concern is that when people are in crisis, they don’t think clearly,” he said.
Drake said he requested data for 911 calls and other records related to Guild South operations in South St. Paul over the past two years and received hundreds of pages of calls and reports. He said some of the information related to Guild patrons who had criminal histories or arrest warrants.
Ultimately, Drake said he would like to see the facility located elsewhere.
Evan Henspeter, the county’s director of social services, told attendees at Thursday’s meeting that there was no correlation between mental illness and violence.
What the police say
Randy Boyden, a South St. Paul police officer designated to handle mental health issues, said police “didn’t have a lot of trouble with Guild.” He said the agency tries to proactively call the police if a client “is out of control or out of control.”
Greg Altman, a West St. Paul police officer who deals with mental health issues, said the pros of a Guild facility outweigh the cons.
Katie Helgason, clinical supervisor for Guild, said some clients had a history of violence or run-ins with the law. But these incidents happened when they were not receiving professional help, she said.
“Now that they are [receiving care from Guild]it’s actually an extra level of security,” she said.
Helgason said customers are monitored around the clock and Guild develops specific safety plans for customers based on past behavior.
West St. Paul Police Chief Brian Sturgeon said if there are any issues at the new facility, police will work with Guild to resolve them.
“History has shown that [safety] hasn’t been a problem” at a facility similar to Savage, Sturgeon told City Council on Monday.
Council members will vote Dec. 12 on a conditional use permit and whether to authorize the necessary rezoning for the project.
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