Those concerned about negative effects of sober homes in their neighborhood shouldn’t be, according to the homes’ owner.

Sheila Haverkamp, who owns the two sober homes on Tyrol Drive that have come under scrutiny by neighbors, spoke to the Brainerd City Council’s safety and public works committee Monday, Oct. 18, following criticism at the previous meeting from those who live near the homes.

“The residents of our sober homes are also citizens of Brainerd,” Haverkamp said on behalf of those she serves through Burlington Recovery Homes. “... We desire to create opportunities for addicts, and we want to stand with them.”

With a recent property acquisition on Tamarac Street, Haverkamp operates five sober homes in Brainerd.

Concerns brought up by Tyrol Drive residents at the previous city council meeting Oct. 4 included noise — especially of motorcycles, too many cars parked on the street, vehicles driving too fast and creating hazards for children, and the worry of decreasing property values.

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At the time, Police Chief Mike Bestul said he was not aware of an excess of police calls at those homes or of concerns from neighbors, as he would certainly increase patrols if that was the case. Bestul and other city staffers investigated the safety concerns and did not find any significant issues, City Engineer and Public Works Director Paul Sandy told the committee Monday.

Throughout a week of tracking speeds on the road, Sandy said the highest speed recorded was 17 mph and noted it would be nearly impossible for a vehicle to go more than 30 mph.

Haverkamp shared photos with the committee showing many other residents of Tyrol Drive also park on the street on a regular basis and noted there is more than enough parking space for the sober home residents. There is parking both in front of the house and in the back, accessible from Northwest Second Street. On average, Haverkamp said, her sober homes each have two to five cars. Even though there may be more residents living there, they do not all have vehicles. There may be vehicles parked on the street when residents have guests over, but that is no different than other homes in the neighborhood, she said.

Mayor Dave Badeaux added that Brainerd’s streets are designed for on-street parking and to ask people not to park there is ridiculous.

While there are two sober home residents with motorcycles, Haverkamp said another Tyrol Drive resident has one, too.

In terms of property values, Haverkamp brought records from Crow Wing County showing the market value of all properties on Tyrol Drive have increased since 2019 — when she bought the first sober home there. There was an increase of 2.59% from 2019 to 2020 and 8.02% from 2020 to 2021. Values are expected to further increase by 3.32% in 2022. Haverkamp noted she purchased both of her properties on Tyrol Drive at higher than the assessed values.

Lastly, in response to a petition signed by Tyrol Drive residents stating no more sober homes are wanted in the neighborhood, Haverkamp noted not everyone on the road signed it, as was stated at the previous council meeting. Residents from 16 of the 24 addresses — aside from the sober homes — on Tyrol Drive signed the petition. But petition aside, Haverkamp said she has heard the residents and has not pursued the last couple houses that went on the market on Tyrol Drive and instead has looked at properties in other parts of the city.

“Our mission is to create a supportive, safe living environment for people in recovery,” Haverkamp said. “The homes are definitely designed to help people achieve that goal and find a new way to live. They don’t want to go back to their old ways.”

With some Tyrol Drive residents at the last meeting worried about sober home tenants coming straight from jail to their neighborhood, Bob Tautges, a Crow Wing County probation agent who is well-acquainted with Haverkamp’s sober homes, said the residents are well-supervised, and there’s a good system of communication in place. He added that he would never place a violent offender straight from jail in one of the neighborhood sober homes.

“If you don’t have sober houses, you have meth houses,” Tautges said. “... People need to have an opportunity to be in a controlled atmosphere so they can become healthy. Addiction is a very, very difficult disease to deal with. And if we don’t deal with it and we’re not proactive in finding resources for people, they’ll be on the streets.”

The vast majority of the residents in Haverkamp’s sober homes are from Crow Wing County, Tautges added, and are not people being brought in from other places.

Being good neighbors

Committee Chair Mike O’Day said he doesn’t believe any of the negative attitudes or words brought forward have been aimed at Haverkamp or her organization.

“I think everybody has been pretty clear that they agree that this is something we need,” O’Day said. “I think the only argument they have is taking a single-family home and turning it into a business. There’s some understanding to be had on both sides, I think, there, but our hands are tied.”

The Federal Fair Housing Act mandates municipalities to make reasonable accommodations for disabled people. Those recovering from chemical dependency are considered disabled under the Federal Fair Housing Act, meaning cities are limited in the regulations they can put on sober homes.

Earlier in October, the city council approved request for reasonable accommodation forms. These forms do not put any regulatory burden on sober homes but formalize a process by which operators of sober homes request accommodation from city code and help staff determine that a proposed sober home is genuinely a sober home and not an effort of someone simply trying to work around city code.

While there are other possible regulation methods — like mandating how far apart sober homes must be from one another, as is the case in St. Paul — City Attorney Joe Langel previously told the council an initiative like that would likely be a lengthy and expensive process.

Essentially what it comes down to, committee members said, is being good neighbors.

“It might be one of those issues where it’s a problem for a little while, and then everybody kind of grows into it,” O’Day said. “That’s my hope. Everybody needs to be heard during this and just continue to be good neighbors, and hopefully this works out.”

The city council took no further action on sober home regulations.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.