Scott County's homeless population hasn't grown much since 2015, but the number of unsheltered homeless has nearly doubled.
The increased need for shelter has led Scott County Health and Human Services Department to explore the possibility of converting largely unused dormitories at the Scott County Association for Leadership and Efficiency Regional Training Facility into a homeless shelter.
The facility, located in Jordan, is primarily used to train the county's law enforcement, firefighting, emergency management, public health and public works groups. Scott County Sheriff Luke Hennen supports the shelter proposal and said a mixed-use facility wouldn't necessarily hinder law enforcement operations.
"We'd have to look at ways to separate out the use of the building appropriately to allow both uses to be possible ... it's definitely a good untapped resource that can get us at least on our feet with dealing with some of our homelessness and housing issues in the community," Hennen said.
The second floor of the RTF has 30 dormitory-style rooms that could be used to house about as many individuals, Health and Human Services Director Pam Selvig said. For the past few years, Scott County has leased several dorms to seasonal employees of Valleyfair amusement park in Shakopee.
"Other than that, the whole second floor where these dorm-style rooms are is pretty under-utilized," Selvig said.
The drop in sheltered individuals over the past three years, from 84 to 42, currently leaves 69 percent of Scott and Carver County's homeless without shelter access, according to a statewide study conducted by Wilder Research.
Most individuals experiencing homelessness in Scott County currently seek shelter in cars, tents, with friends and family or find shelter access outside the county, Selvig said. Without a shelter in Scott County, officials aren't equipped to determine the reason why so many lost shelter access over the past three years.
"Our situation hasn't changed, there isn't a homeless shelter in the county, there isn't in Carver County either," Selvig said. "The only resource we have is Families Moving Forward, which only houses four families at a time between the two counties."
Selvig said counties have recently felt pressure to pitch in resources to help combat the metro-wide housing and homelessness problem.
"There's been some push for counties to look at what kind of opportunities are out there and what can counties bring to the table to help address the issue," she said.
But Scott County is still in very early stages of developing a long-term solution. Selvig said her department will submit a bonding request to the governor's budget to allocate funds for renovating the dormitories. If approved, that money wouldn't be seen until next summer at the earliest.
Scott County is not interested in running the shelter, Selvig said, so the project hinges on a partnership with a nonprofit to take over operation of the proposed shelter. The next step will be drafting a request for proposal to procure the interest of an organization to spearhead the project.
Down the line, any proposal for a shelter would need to be approved by the RTF's governing board.