New vision for Dorothy Day Center closer to reality

| May 6, 2016 | 0 Comments
With downtown St. Paul in the background, the is is an artist's rendering of the new Higher Ground St. Paul under construction, an expansion of Catholic Charities' Dorothy Day Center. At right is the planned second phase of the project, the St. Paul Opportunity Center with services provided on the first floor and the Dorothy Day Residence on the second.

With downtown St. Paul in the background, this is an artist’s rendering of the new Higher Ground St. Paul under construction, an expansion of Catholic Charities’ Dorothy Day Center. At right is the planned second phase of the project, the St. Paul Opportunity Center, with services provided on the first floor and the Dorothy Day Residence above. Image courtesy Catholic Charities.

Building going up, funding growing

The hard-hats are still on and the cranes are still working, but five stories of the new Higher Ground St. Paul have risen on the edge of downtown, and the capital campaign to fund Catholic Charities’ new vision for the Dorothy Day Center is better than three-fourths of the way to its goal.

One year after the opening of the $40 million drive to expand the downtown St. Paul facility, $31.2 million has been raised “to provide a meal, a place to sleep and a way forward,” campaign co-chair Mary Brainerd said. She spoke May 6 at what was billed as the last annual breakfast at the current site where the Dorothy Day Center has served people in need for 35 years.

The new Higher Ground St. Paul — expected to welcome guests in December — will provide dignified emergency shelter for 280 women and men and a range of permanent housing options for 193 people who were formerly homeless, “a refuge in the heart of the city and hope and opportunity for those who need it most,” said Brainerd, president and chief executive officer of HealthPartners.

In offering an invocation at the event, Archbishop-designate Bernard Hebda prayed that the Lord would “give us the wisdom to see the value you see in each of our brothers and sisters.” He thanked supporters of the Dorothy Day Center for their testimony to the value of each human life, reminding the several hundred who attended of the words of the late Dorothy Day herself, that people are to treat others “as if we were entertaining angels.”

Tim Marx, Catholic Charities’ president and CEO, said construction of the first phase of the project is going on time and on budget. He recalled that planning for the expansion began five years ago.

“We hit a breaking point in 2011,” Marx said. “We turned people away for the first time [from available beds in the shelter].” A temporary solution has provided an emergency sleeping area on mats on the floor of the center on East Seventh Street, where 250 people sleep each night.

“People deserve better than mats on the floor inches away from other people,” Marx added. “The new facility will provide housing for 473 of our neighbors, so that no one will sleep on mats on a cold floor. Never again. Not on our watch.”

Catholic Charities is aiming to break ground on phase two of the plan in December. The St. Paul Opportunity Center will be an integrated one-stop location connecting people to services offered by Catholic Charities and a range of other organizations and partners, including Ramsey County, to improve health, income and well-being, according to Catholic Charities.

Services will be provided on the first floor, and permanent housing options for 170 formerly homeless people will be on the second floor in the Dorothy Day Residence.

At the May 6 gathering, Catholic Charities presented the annual Dorothy Day Community Service Award to two groups.

One was a group of men who have volunteered 12,000 hours to staff the “overflow” of homeless people who sleep each night during the winter at a former mortuary across the street from the Dorothy Day Center.

The other was to Securian Financial Group, whose employees have volunteered to serve lunch twice a month at Dorothy Day for the past 15 years.

Rob Strange, a Securian employee who heads up the project, said the St. Paul company’s support for giving back to the community inspires him to take part in the Dorothy Day lunch initiative. For those who work close by, he said, “It’s such a visible need; it’s hard not to notice.”

Strange, an Inver Grove Heights resident and member of St. Thomas Becket in Eagan, said getting co-workers to volunteer has never been a problem.

“Every time I’ve talked about it over the years, we get more people volunteering,” Strange said.

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Category: Local News