At 6 a.m. on a hot, muggy Saturday last July, I visited the Dorothy Day Center, just down the hill from our Cathedral of St. Paul, where 250 homeless people — men, women, elderly, disabled and ill — were roused with bright lights and a sharp voice: “Ladies and gentlemen, good morning, time to get up. We will close soon.” The sounds and forlorn faces of these children of God, our brothers and sisters, struggling to rise from thin mats, crowded together inches apart on a hard floor, made me shudder as they steeled themselves for another day on the streets, most without hope or opportunity.
As Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis President Tim Marx explained to me that morning, the Dorothy Day Center was never intended to be a place where people spent the night. It began as a day center for meals and for connecting to opportunities. But as homelessness increased, the center took on a broader role as a “24/7/365” community “emergency room” for people in need. Finally, in 2011, it ran out of room, and camps sprung up on the streets outside. It was a community crisis, and since then, Catholic Charities has been leading a community response — a new vision called Dorothy Day Place.
Dorothy Day Place is not just an upgraded drop-in center or emergency shelter. As Tim explained, its vision is to provide an integrated set of programs, within two distinct buildings, to implement proven strategies to prevent and address homelessness. It draws on Catholic Charities’ experience with existing programs such as Higher Ground Minneapolis, which I also visited last July.
Unlike the old Dorothy Day Center, Higher Ground Minneapolis already offered people dignified bunk beds in a clean, spacious and hopeful environment, including access to permanent apartment homes in the same building. I was moved when a resident who saw my clerical collar asked for a blessing, and I was heartened when introduced to a group of residents and volunteers who were returning from a morning run as part of a wellness program. I am delighted that the new Dorothy Day Place will also implement the strategies used at the Minneapolis Opportunity Center, which provides healthy meals, job training, housing assistance, health care and veterans services. I am still grateful to all of the volunteers I met that day who had given up their Saturday morning to prepare and serve meals there.
The new Dorothy Day Place combines the elements of Higher Ground Minneapolis — dignified shelter and permanent housing — with an Opportunity Center for St. Paul. The first part of the new facility — Higher Ground St. Paul — opened in January, to the joy of the 473 people who now get a night’s rest in dignity, with many in their own home for the first time in years. We can be proud and grateful that this Easter, no one spent the night on a thin mat on the floor at the old Dorothy Day Center.
But there is more to do. The second part of the project — the St. Paul Opportunity Center and some additional housing, to be called the Dorothy Day Residence — still needs to be completed. While community leaders have raised millions of private dollars for what was intended to be a public-private partnership, the needed public component is somewhat slower in coming. I am happy to hear that the required public funding is being considered as part of a bonding bill this legislative session — and I’m hopeful that we can help make this critical funding a reality by making our support known.
During this Easter season we celebrate the hope and renewal offered by the resurrected Jesus, the same Lord who promised a share of his victory to those who would respond to the needs of the least of his brothers and sisters. If completed, the new Dorothy Day Place will bless us with an opportunity to offer the Lord’s hope and renewal to some of the most vulnerable members of our community.
In the spirit of this Easter season, I invite you to join me in reaching out to those who can make the final phase of Dorothy Day Place a reality — Gov. Mark Dayton and our legislators — and urge them to fully fund the new Dorothy Day Place this legislative session.
Category: Only Jesus