Task force to identify better ways to address homelessness

Kathy Cook, a member of Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Maplewood, serves the evening meal to a client at the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul May 1. Cook’s uncle, Vic Baller, and his late wife Lee started the parish’s Loaves and Fishes ministry 33 years ago serving meals to the homeless. Lee passed away six months ago, and Vic and all of their children, as a tribute to Lee and her commitment to the ministry, paid for the cost of the meal and were on hand to serve it. The changing landscape of poverty and homelessness in the city of St. Paul has led to the creation of the Dorothy Day Center Task Force, announced May 2 by Mayor Chris Coleman. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Kathy Cook, a member of Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Maplewood, serves the evening meal to a client at the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul May 1. Cook’s uncle, Vic Baller, and his late wife Lee started the parish’s Loaves and Fishes ministry 33 years ago serving meals to the homeless. Lee passed away six months ago, and Vic and all of their children, as a tribute to Lee and her commitment to the ministry, paid for the cost of the meal and were on hand to serve it. The changing landscape of poverty and homelessness in the city of St. Paul has led to the creation of the Dorothy Day Center Task Force, announced May 2 by Mayor Chris Coleman. Dianne Towalski / The Catholic Spirit

Near the end of the annual Dorothy Day Center Community Breakfast May 2, keynote speaker Matt Kramer asked the attendees to glance down at their shoes.

“Just about two hours ago, there were 100 people sleeping on this floor,” Kramer, president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, reminded those sitting around tables at the center.

“Today, one of the central characteristics of Catholic Charities — and I say this with sorrow as a board member — is not being met: dignity,” he said. “It’s the dignity of individuals who two hours ago were sleeping on these floors — on very thin mats, on a concrete floor, six inches from person to person. That isn’t dignity.”

The changing landscape of poverty and homelessness in the city of St. Paul has led to the creation of the Dorothy Day Center Task Force, which was announced during the breakfast by Mayor Chris Coleman.

The task force is a partnership between the city, Catholic Charities, businesses, philanthropic organizations and other community members. It will be led by Coleman, Kramer and Carleen Rhodes, president and CEO of The Saint Paul Foundation.

Needs are increasing

The Dorothy Day Center, run by Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, has been located in downtown St. Paul for 32 years. It is now struggling to meet the growing needs of the community.

“We know that we can do better as a community,” Coleman said. “The face of homelessness has changed very dramatically in those 32 years. “The number of homeless in our population has changed dramatically.”

The task force will examine how the circumstances and extent of homelessness have changed over the years, he said, as well as what kind of facilities and approaches are needed today to properly care for those most in need and provide pathways out of poverty.

The Dorothy Day Center sleeps up to 250 people every night, cares for 81 percent of the homeless men in Ramsey County and is the only shelter in the county available to single women, according to Catholic Charities. Of the 6,300 people served at Dorothy Day in 2012, nearly 400 were young adults and about one-fourth were 55 or older.

In 2011, for the first time ever, the number of people needing shelter at the center surpassed its capacity.

As the number of people experiencing homelessness increases, so does the complexity of their needs. People coming to the Dorothy Day Center need more than the coffee and rolls that were served when it opened in 1981, according to Catholic Charities. Some are fleeing domestic violence; many are in need of mental health services and job training. Others come to the center for assistance during the day as a way to avoid long- and short-term homelessness.

“The needs in St. Paul have far surpassed what the current Dorothy Day Center is capable of providing,” said Tim Marx, Catholic Charities’ CEO. “The St. Paul community has not only recognized this challenge, but made a concrete commitment to develop a new approach that will improve the lives of every person who calls St. Paul home.”

“We cannot continue to have hundreds of people sleeping on the floors in a space that was never designed to have that happen,” Coleman said. “We, as a community, need to take on that challenge and do better.”

Addressing the breakfast attendees, he added, “I want to thank all of you because we will be calling on you to not only support this effort but to help pay for it, too. At the end of the day, this is going to take resources.”

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Category: Local News