Mental health advocates address New Hope’s ‘drastic’ decision to shut down group homes
Mental health advocates say the city of New Hope took “a very drastic step” when it used a rental licensing ordinance to shut down two state-licensed facilities that cared for people with disabilities.
In a letter sent to New Hope’s mayor and city council members on Tuesday, four local nonprofit organizations that advocate on behalf of individuals with mental health issues warned of the dire consequences of the city’s decision.
The decision displaced nearly a dozen individuals who struggle with severe mental illness and other disabilities.
Sue Abderholden, executive director of NAMI-Minnesota, said she began looking into the situation after seeing reporting from 5 INVESTIGATES last month.
“We were concerned that New Hope wasn’t looking at the larger picture, that people with mental illnesses, including people with serious mental illnesses, need to live in the community,” she said.
Last summer, the city began citing the two group homes on multiple occasions for “disorderly behavior” violations after police responded to disturbances in the group homes, nuisance calls, and a drug overdose death.
That behavior, according to New Hope’s acting city manager and police chief Tim Hoyt, justified the city’s decision to revoke the rental licenses, effectively evicting the individuals who lived there.
“We want to make sure the tenant that is living in these group homes are safe,” Hoyt said last month during an interview with 5 INVESTIGATES.
“When I look at what was cited, you know, as the reason to close these homes, I don’t think it was about frankly, safety,” Abderholden said, adding she believes the city’s decision to use a drug overdose death as a citation was “particularly cruel.”
In the letter, advocates also warn the decision to shut down the group homes could have a chilling effect on other providers and staff, especially in situations when police are needed to assist an individual experiencing a mental health crisis.
“We don’t want people to be afraid to call 911 when they need it,” Abderholden said. “It shouldn’t be used as a weapon, and it shouldn’t be used to evict people.”
5 INVESTIGATES reached out to the city, seeking a response to the letter. We also asked about a special city council meeting held Tuesday night, wanting to know if this issue was discussed.
A city spokesperson did not respond directly to those questions.
The coalition also addresses comments by city leaders during the process of revoking the rental licenses, which came after neighbors and some city leaders publicly questioned whether those facilities should be allowed to operate in their community.
“The language used during the hearing was concerning – including asking if there were enough staff to ‘control’ the residents,” the letter states.
Advocates, along with lawmakers, are concerned this tactic could be used by other cities in Minnesota to shut down unwanted facilities.
“We’ve had some homes closed because they couldn’t find staffing,” Abderholden said. “Now if we have homes close because neighbors don’t want them… Where do people go? Where do we have them go?”