Higher Ground opens its doors to transform homelessness in St. Paul

| January 13, 2017 | 0 Comments

A rendering of Higher Ground in St. Paul, which began moving in the homeless Jan. 11. Courtesy Catholic Charities

With finishing touches remaining on Catholic Charities’ Higher Ground homeless shelter in downtown St. Paul, residents began moving in Jan. 11.

Volunteers helped get bunk beds and rooms ready at the five-story residence that houses 437 people. The volunteers also gave room keys to the pay-for-stay and permanent residents.

“When you see the impact of a person getting a key and turning it into a lock and knowing that ‘this is my home, I get to stay here;’ it is transformative,” said Catholic Charities CEO Tim Marx.

Marx said Higher Ground exists to “solve homelessness by providing dignified shelter, access to permanent housing and then access to services, job training, other opportunities that allow people to achieve permanent stability.”

Higher Ground is one of two new buildings that will take the place of Catholic Charities’ Dorothy Day Center, which sits across the street on Old Sixth Street. Dorothy Day opened in 1981 as a place to serve meals to the poor, but became a place for the homeless stay.

Gerry Lauer, the senior program manager for Dorothy Day, said the old center “wasn’t built for a shelter, it was built for daytime services.”

In 2011, Dorothy Day became so full that people had to be turned away from sleeping there. It held a capacity of 250 people sleeping on the floor. With homeless people out on the streets, Catholic Charities sought help from the community. Catholic Charities then utilized support from the public and private sectors in bringing the first phase of the $100-million project for new facilities to fruition.

“The major focus of this building is on chronic homeless [and] long-term homeless, those folks who have, for a variety of reasons, been stuck in shelter,” Lauer said.

Higher Ground provides an emergency shelter, temporary living quarters and permanent residences. Housing services include medical respite care and a program for women with late stage alcoholism.

Both of Higher Ground’s emergency shelters, separate for men and women, provide bunk beds and space to lock up belongings. Guests also get access to food, linens and toiletries in the respective shelters, which can hold 172 men and 60 women.

A pay-for-stay shelter for men provides a place to live while not being able to afford the average rental rates in the metro. The guests will have access to a TV lounge, computer lab and a small kitchen.

Permanent housing gives guests a chance to transition to a more stable lifestyle. The single-room occupancies hold up to 165 residents.

Construction of Higher Ground began in spring 2015. While finishing touches remain, such as putting terrazzo on the stairs, Lauer anticipates they’ll stop seeing contractors coming around in about six weeks. A little more work hasn’t put much of a damper on the facilities opening.

“Our residents are extremely happy,” Lauer said. “The stories about how this has been so positive in their life is amazing.”

Phase two of the new Dorothy Day project will bring additional residential space and increased services for the homeless. Known as the Opportunity Center, guests can receive job training, physical and mental health care, resources for veterans, meals and housing services.

Catholic Charities has raised more than $35 million for its $40 million capital campaign to fund the two facilities. The Opportunity Center is slated for completion in 2018. In addition to the campaign, Catholic Charities hopes for the Minnesota State Legislature to commit to a proposed $12 million for the project this year.

“What we need is the legislature to come together to finish that work to allow this project to go forward,” Marx said.

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