Aiso Abdulle asked around when she saw several patients returning again and again to the Minneapolis hospital where she worked. Nurse colleagues saw the same thing.
They discovered one similarity between the patients: They did not have stable housing. As a result, they were unable to follow doctors’ orders, said Abdulle, who came to Minneapolis from Somalia in 1993 at age 7 and went on to earn her doctorate in nursing.
She and the other nurses – her sister Ikraan Abdulle, Murwo Elmi and Farhia Abdulahi – decided in 2021 to do something to solve the problem of their patients. They founded OurPlace Residential Services, fulfilling a lifelong dream of owning their own business.
“We are all first-generation immigrants and the first women in our families to be educated in general,” Abdulle, 36, said. “So we’re all very excited to be the first women in our families to own a business. We love what we do.”
At first, they only provided nursing care within patients’ homes. The business grew to seven clients.
But the nurses, aged 34 to 43, wanted to provide much more than home health care.
So they worked with the Minnesota Department of Health and obtained licenses and contracts to provide “integrated support services.” This means providing the medical care, stable housing, and administrative/training support services needed to stabilize disabled and homeless patients. The extra help meant clients could stay out of hospital and out of homeless shelters.
OurPlace Residential leased its first apartment and leased it to a patient a year ago. Since then, it has added six more apartments in south Minneapolis, Eden Prairie and Burnsville for clients with disabilities, some with mental illness.
On March 31, the nurses put down $100,000 and bought a $1.1 million apartment building on Franklin Avenue in Minneapolis. The $1.5 million renovations began Aug. 1. When completed this fall, the building will have an elevator, new roof, new heating system and 14 apartments for 14 more customers.
The $2.6 million project received funding from business assistance group Meda, the city of Minneapolis and the U.S. Small Business Administration after several banks turned the nurses down for a loan.
Meda “just really hugged us and said, ‘Tell us about your goals [and] dreams,” said Abdulle, who, along with her sister, earned her doctorate in nursing from the University of Augsburg. “It allows us to be part of the goals of trying to end homelessness and impact health of people. Now we can get people who couldn’t afford their own apartment before because of mental health or poor credit.”
Patrick Pariseau, vice president of lending and client services for Meda, ran OurPlace’s numbers and saw his business plan work.
“We expect them to turn out healthy and start generating profits next year,” he said.
Business could grow because the four nurses could buy another building or rent more apartments for clients, he said.
This is the plan, Abdulle said. It’s been quite a journey.
Three of the four nurses still work at the hospital during the day, while running the business at nights and weekends.
The company that started in Faiso Abdulle’s home found its first office on Portland Avenue in Minneapolis last year. This summer, OurPlace Residential moved to a much larger office in Bloomington.
At first, the nurses paid their 11 employees — who earn $15 to $19 an hour — out of their hospital wages. But in April, the company finally made enough money to pay the staff and themselves. The four split the $5,000 four ways. If the company continues on the same path, this amount should increase, Abdulle said.
The state is trying to reduce homelessness by providing the most vulnerable adults with help with housing, health care, groceries, transportation, paying bills and employment.
The nurses “saw real value in that,” Pariseau said. “It’s not always about the money. They said, ‘Yeah, we can make some money, but we’re going to take and improve a [distressed] building that doesn’t have high rent, will generate community and improve a neighborhood in need and help people.’ This made them unique. They have a real enthusiasm.”