August 2, 2018 at 3:21 p.m.

Group home open house counters fear of unknown

Group home open house counters fear of unknown
Group home open house counters fear of unknown

Facebook can be a great tool, but it can also be used for throwing unsubstantiated fuel onto a smoldering social fire. Should you find yourself the subject of an Internet rumor mill, like a group of developmentally delayed adults in Lindstrom recently did; you might try doing what they did-- throw a party.

The group home on North Meadow Curve is operated under the umbrella of Creative Home Options Inc. Capacity is four  adult clients.   In a lengthy chain of recent Facebook comments posted by neigbborhood members a suspicious male figure observed in the neighborhood,  was attributed to being a group home resident, and he is not.  

A suspect thought to have been stalking children was perceived as a sexual predator who lived at ther CHO facility.  The neighborhood has since learned sexual predators are not allowed to reside at this home.

A short-term female resident had previously given no indication of being troubled or hostile, but she did behave in a manner that initiated calls to the police and in fact called 9-1-1 on herself.

Lakes Area Chief of Police Bill Schlumbohm said he doesn’t blame neighbors for a level of discomfort when incidents happen.

The neighbors’ first instinct is to ask city government for help.  “People began turning to the city,” he said.  

But, under state laws there’s little that falls under local regulation when a group home for a specific population is being sited.  The city is forbidden to zone homes like this,  out of the city, the chief continued.  “There’s zero control” at a city level over where the licensed group homes go.

Creative Home Options has provided programming inside this single family dwelling in the North Meadow subdivision for years.  

The site is one of 70 group homes in Chisago County.

When the Internet-related concerns became obvious, CHO decided to hold an open house.  The July 22 event seems to have been successful in reaching out to regain trust and respect in the community.  Residents, personal care attendants and staff had a chance to mingle with open minded neighbors,  who could see the group home operation from the inside-out.  Neighbors appeared appreciative to be able to meet the clients, go inside the home and talk with other neighbors.

Chief Schlumbohm agreed that education is a big component of addressing fear of the unknown.

He commented that this experience is all part and parcel of the greater discussion about mental health,  and how well the law enforcement community is being funded or supported to respond to the variety of incidents.

Parents of a CHO resident attending the barbecue open house,  said their son has had failures in the group home system and they were becoming disillusioned “after all he has endured.”  

CHO in North Meadow offers a structured program and a house routine, along with spiritual guidance, and their son is making strides. “This great team is giving (our son) the environment he needs to succeed both mentally and physically,” they stated.

Lakes Area Police also facilitated a neighborhood meeting at the Chisago Lakes Area Library last winter, which helped get the discussion going.  Group home spokesperson, Jerome Djam thanks local law enforcement for clarifying and answering questions about emergency incidents in the area around the home.   Djam also extends appreciation to North Meadow residents Julie Chancellor and Dan Twohy for their involvement in opening the communications.

Djam has been working with special needs individuals for 30 years.  His specialty is connecting clients with employment opportunities and he has also coordinated employment for students enrolled in area school districts, with special needs.

CHO itself provides jobs--  there are 15 people working at the North Meadows site providing 24/7 care.

Creative Home Options Inc,  is a licensed 245D residential provider.    Residents are directed to the North Meadow dwelling by private referral or by case managers working for county social services.

Creative Home Options Program Director Heather McVey said, “Providers throughout the county, in our area, and throughout the state and country, provide assistance for a wide variety of people with a wide range of diagnoses; some needing help with all aspects of daily life.”  

McVey explained that there are specific steps to follow when the decision is made to discharge a resident, including sufficient notice.  They have rights to due process.

The staff is always working to pro-actively prevent situations where offensive behavior could result, she added. There is generally a one-to-one ratio of  attending staff to a client, but certain clients may warrant a two-to-one staff ratio.  

Group homes also must accept an eligible client in emergency placement situations if there’s an empty bed. (CHO-North Meadow is at capacity currently.)
It should be remembered that unless a client has a court appointed guardian legally making decisions for them-- residents may enter and exit depending on their personal choice of where they wish to reside.

McVey concluded, stating, “It is the job of direct support professionals to help ensure (client) rights are protected,  as well as provide programming to assist each individual in achieving as much independence as possible to to be productive citizens of the community.

“We can learn to understand each other in our differences rather than react out of fear to something we are not familiar with.”

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