SOUDAN- A roomful of Breitung residents had a long list of questions for the developers of a planned board and lodging home for women in the old Parkside Home building.
The home would serve woman who are in the process of recovering from mental health issues or chemical dependency struggles. Residents would be referred to the home by St. Louis County Social Services or other social service agencies.
Funding comes through state and county programs for transitional group housing needs.
Rumors about the sale of the building erupted last week. Staff at Breitung Town Hall were hearing concerns from residents who said the home was going to be used to house prisoners from correctional facilities such as Thistledew, or was to be a shelter for battered women.
Breitung Supervisor Chuck Tekautz reached out to the potential owner, and invited her to speak at Tuesday’s town board meeting.
“I have no idea of how the rumors came about,” said Shelly Holmes of Buhl, who is president of the newly-formed Lotus Corporation, she is in the process of purchasing the building, currently operated as CoZ Sisters Lodge and Retreat. Her for-profit corporation is also in the process of opening two similar facilities in other towns on the Range. Holmes is a long-time area business woman, with experience in trucking and real estate rental properties. Her business partner brings a long background of working with disabled clients in group home settings.
Holmes noted that the process of purchasing the building has included working with an assortment of state and county agencies to make sure the building would meet building, fire and health codes, as well as meet the state and county guidelines for such a board and lodging facility. Until they were assured that the building would pass these multiple inspections, no purchase agreement could be signed.
Holmes said they are now close to signing a purchase agreement with building owner Marian Zaudtke.
Holmes said that St. Louis County has assured them that the zoning is already in place for such a board and lodging. The town board asked her to double-check that the existing conditional use permit still applied.
“I know there have been some concerns,” said Holmes. “But these women are not criminals. Most will have underlying mental health issues like depression.”
Holmes said the supportive housing offers meals, medication management, will teach life skills like cooking, nutrition, self-care, and job coaching. Residents would live at the home either on a short-term or long-term basis.
“These women need a chance to live in a nice, safe facility,” she said.
The house will have strict house rules, and will house up to 32 women, who will live in single, double, or quad rooms. Residents for the home would be coming from St. Louis County.
The home will have a staff of at least eight, with a full time house manager, assistant house manager, cooks, a part-time nurse, van drivers, and assorted other assistants.
The home would not house families or children, though residents can have visitors during the day. The home would be locked overnight, with no visitors allowed in or residents allowed out. Residents would need to follow the house rules or would not be allowed to remain.
“This will be a home,” she said, “not a facility or institution.”
“This is a nice community for such a home,” she said. “There are two churches within walking distance. There isn’t a lot of crime. And there are no bars or liquor stores.”
But some questioned whether this was truly the case.
Doug Erickson questioned whether or not the home would tax the services of the local police, wondering how often police might be called in to such a facility.
“What about the angry boyfriends?” he said. “Can this community afford enough police officers? These are the issues you need to think about.”
Bernie Zollar also wondered about the impact on the area ambulance service.
“To say this won’t be a burden on the ambulance is ludicrous,” he said. Zollar also noted that the Breitung Police respond to all ambulance calls, if available.
But others in the audience noted that this wasn’t that different from Parkside Homes, which operated a group home for adult mentally-ill clients for many years.
“I lived down the road from Parkside for many years,” said Breitung Supervisor Greg Dostert. “There was only a couple of times I felt uncomfortable and that was with some men with drug problems who had been moved in.”
Dostert noted that this home would be creating jobs, which was a positive thing.
Holmes said the lowest paying job would be $12 per hour. Their estimated annual payroll will be around $300,000.
Residents would also have spending money and would be free to shop in area stores. The home will have a 12-passenger van to transport residents, and will also take advantage of Arrowhead Transit services. Residents would be encouraged to volunteer in the community. Job training would also take place, either locally or in area towns.
Susanna Erickson expressed anger at the idea that this was being brought to the community without any warning. “I feel affronted,” she said. “All of a sudden here it is. Hi, we are going to do this…It doesn’t feel very good.”
But then she did agree that this home would not be that different from Parkside, which she felt fit in well to the community.
Marge McPeak questioned how the women would be spending their time.
“There aren’t a lot of volunteer opportunities here,” she said. “There will be a lot of hours in a day with nothing to do.”
Others wondered if there were enough job opportunities in the area.
“This is a really job-depressed community,” said Susanna Erickson. “So should we be happy they are coming here to get jobs?”
“I do think if you are bringing women into this size of a community, which frankly can be boring, transportation is going to be a huge issue,” said Susanna Erickson. “I think it would be better in a larger community.”
Holmes said they will be putting in gardens for residents to work in, and that the home will have an indoor fitness room, plenty of books, televisions in each room, and places for other activities. Women will be taught skills like cooking and cleaning, and will be responsible for cleaning their own rooms. She said that they have already had offers from community members willing to come in and teach crafts to the residents.
Holmes estimated that the typical resident would be in her 30s or 40s.
Town board members had only a few questions for Holmes. They asked that Holmes set up procedures for soliciting public comments and concerns, both before and after the home is opened. They also asked that there be another time the community could come to ask questions and voice concerns before the home is opened.
“If everyone works together,” said Holmes, “this will be a win-win situation.”
“This is not some get rich quick scheme,” she said. “It is a huge investment. There are tons of regulations and oversight.” She also noted that the home would be run by licensed professionals.
“There are going to be problems,” said Tekautz, “but we need to work together to solve them.”
The home will be called “Kathryn’s House,” named in memory of the sister of Holmes’ best friend and business partner. Kathryn, Holmes explained, struggled with mental health issues and would have needed a place like this to live.
Holmes estimated that Kathryn’s House would be ready to house residents sometime in August. She said they will soon be advertising for the job openings.