Catholic Charities plans Dorothy Day Center expansion

| December 20, 2013 | 0 Comments

Center plans to expand shelter, housing, servicesMap#1(12-9-13)

In an effort to decrease and prevent homelessness in St. Paul, Catholic Charities’ Dorothy Day Center recently announced plans for a new shelter-and-housing facility, connection center and permanent housing.

The two-phase, $64 million ReVision project is the result of recommendations from a task force that St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman formed last May.

At a press conference Dec. 20, Coleman said people in need currently don’t have a sufficient pathway to move up and off the street.

The Dorothy Day Center started as a drop-in facility in 1981 but turned into a temporary overnight shelter when homelessness increased.

According to the ReVision report, because the center wasn’t designed to house people, conditions are overcrowded, unsanitary and undignified.

Each night at the center, which operates 24/7 for the entire year, more than 200 mats line the floor inches apart. Not only do people sleep on the mats, but they also eat and try to keep their belongings safe on them.

“We cannot, will not, allow individuals to be treated with anything less than the dignity they deserve,” said Matt Kramer, president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the task force, which consists of other leaders from the city and Ramsey County. “Sleeping on this floor that we’re standing on right now is not dignity,” Kramer said.

From left, Verdarrell Duncan, Semaje Davis and Pinkey Johnson work in the kitchen preparing food at the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul. Duncan is a volunteer who also receives services at the center, Johnson is the head chef and Davis is her grandson. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

From left, Verdarrell Duncan, Semaje Davis and Pinkey Johnson work in the kitchen preparing food at the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul. Duncan is a volunteer who also receives services at the center, Johnson is the head chef and Davis is her grandson. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Higher Ground model

The location of the new shelter and connection center is planned for the northeast quadrant of downtown St. Paul, an area organizers say is safer and would provide clients better access to transportation options and other community services. The permanent housing is planned for downtown, either at the existing Dorothy Day Center or a location to be determined.

The shelter and connection center would be modeled after Catholic Charities’ Higher Ground facility in Minneapolis, which provides emergency shelter, “pay-for-stay” beds and private, permanent apartments all in one building.

According to Catholic Charities, since Higher Ground opened in 2012, there has been a 38 percent decrease in overnight shelter stays among people who use it most (single adults and veterans), and more than 95 men have moved from the temporary shelter into stable or permanent housing.

St. Paul’s version of the facility would shelter and house 470 people and provide the “pay-for-stay” option for 75 people. The money clients pay for enhanced shelter would be saved for them to use toward the first month’s rent or a security deposit when more permanent housing becomes available.

The first-phase of the project also includes plans for a connection center within the building, which would provide mental health services, job training, access to veterans’ benefits and meals. Building permanent, affordable housing units in downtown St. Paul would complete the project.

“This is not only the right thing to do, but is also the smart thing to do,” said Tim Marx, chief executive officer of Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which owns and operates the Dorothy Day Center in downtown St. Paul. “Because one thing that we all know is that if we solve homelessness, we avoid so many public costs. . . . As we go about this work, we can do it both with heart and head, and spirit, and [we] will accomplish this task.” Marx called the project a “new day for Dorothy Day.”

Eric Clardy, right, an advocate with Catholic Charities’ Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul, talks with Sheila Jones at the center Dec. 23. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Eric Clardy, right, an advocate with Catholic Charities’ Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul, talks with Sheila Jones at the center Dec. 23. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

Depending on the outcome of the upcoming state legislative session, which will determine funding sources, the first phase of the project could be completed by 2016.

According to the ReVision report, Catholic Charities, the City of St. Paul, Ramsey County and the broader business and philanthropic community will work to secure $22 million in state bonding for the first phase of the project. They also plan to use private funding.

Marx urged people to contact legislators to get the project moving forward when the session starts in February.

“What is really important is that everyone understands the urgency of the situation,” Marx said. “We have a crisis here at the Dorothy Day Center.”

“This [project] is an absolute godsend for the people we’re serving,” said Tina Palmer, senior director of development for Catholic Charities. “This is an opportunity to transform homelessness in St. Paul.”

Meetings with Gov. Mark Dayton, legislators and leaders in the philanthropic community have helped propel the task force’s efforts, which are ongoing. The project coincides with the state’s plan to address homelessness, which was released last month.

“Now the work really begins,” Coleman said. “This is an action plan. This is not a think-tank. This is not something to sit on a shelf. This is something to roll up our sleeves and get to work on right away.”

 

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