1 person, 1 home, millions of dollars

People living in a Coon Rapids, Minnesota neighborhood wondered what was happening to the blue house on the corner lot.

It was in rough shape after going into foreclosure a few years back, but a buyer came along and made several improvements including shatter proof windows, a remodeled kitchen and even a sauna.

But, the new owner didn't move in, instead he rented the place out for the next five years to the State of Minnesota.

One person lives in the three bedroom home and state employees come and go around the clock. There are at least three per shift and they are hired to support the needs of the lone occupant.

"They really don't need a house this size for one person," neighbor Bob Krahn said.

The Fox 9 Investigators discovered it is costing taxpayers almost a million dollars a year.

An 18-year-old man, whose initials are W.O., was placed in the home last summer.

W.O. is a ward of the state, has intellectual and developmental disabilities and a history of difficult behavior.

"Handled the right way it’s a good thing for a neighborhood because we need to see people of all abilities," Lemoyne Corgard, a neighbor, said.

Since last July, at least 45 calls to police have come from the address.

Police reports describe what happens inside of the home. In one incident an employee reported W.O. was "becoming violent, destroying property. Staff had locked themselves inside an office."

A few days later another worker called 911 to alert police that W.O. had kicked open the secured front door and tried to run away.

Krahn said this happened as he was playing with his granddaughter in his front yard.

“He was screaming and yelling at them and smashed the lights above the garage door and telling them he was going to kill them," recalled Krahn. "He took a swing at one of the guys and they took him down. And then the next thing I know they had two or three squad cars, a fire truck and an ambulance there."

In October, police were called again because staff reported W.O. “was armed with a broken piece of glass, was destroying the house, and out of control."

"We've got like a ticking time bomb and just wondering when it’s going to explode," neighbor Garry Anderson said.

The risk of violent behavior is why at least three people are with W.O. every hour of the day and night. The cost is about $910,000 a year.

DHS explains

"Well, it’s definitely a lot of money. I would say that our obligations are to insure that we're giving people with disabilities an opportunity to live in the community, to meet the court and legal requirements, that we have to do that and all the time be balancing that with our role of being a good steward of taxpayer dollars,” said Chuck Johnson, deputy commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

In the past, people like W.O. were warehoused in large institutions. It was more cost effective, but a horrible way to live. Drugs, mechanical restraints and other harsh techniques were used to keep them under control.

A lawsuit against the state put an end to that kind of treatment. Minnesota moved away from using large institutions in favor of smaller, community based, group homes.

“I think there's clear and convincing evidence from the research that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities do have better lives when they're living in the communities," said Amy Hewitt from the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota.

Many of Minnesota's group homes are privately operated but the Department of Human Services is still in the business of running 119 of them. Currently, 396 people live in those state operated homes. According to DHS, the yearly cost is $83 million or about $210,000 on average per individual.

But, the Fox 9 Investigators discovered seven of those properties have just one person in them. These individuals have very complex needs and require a lot of attention, according to DHS.

"Our hope is that we can stabilize that individual to a point where we can get them into a more cost effective setting," said Johnson.

The average annual cost to staff each of those seven homes is $885,000. 

Legislative auditor investigating 

Minnesota's legislative auditor, Jim Nobles, is now investigating and will update law makers on his findings later in February.

"I'd rather wait until our report is out, but there are very expensive cases in our analysis. We've isolated those and tried to find out what's behind those high costs," Nobles said.

The highest costs typically coincide with the most challenging cases like W.O.

DHS told the Fox 9 Investigators it's working on being a good neighbor, trying to mitigate the number of 911 calls.

If disruptions continue, the department does have the option to move W.O. to another location.

Officials at DHS said they are seeing more of the complex cases and there is also a tremendous shortage of qualified staff to work with these individuals.