ST. PAUL NOTES | Out of the comfort zone — Dorothy Day Center


“We must talk about poverty, because people insulated by their own comfort lose sight of it,” Dorothy Day said. We must also talk about homelessness, because it’s still here — right here in St. Paul (and also, of course, in Minneapolis and the rest of the state.)

In St. Paul, the Dorothy Day Center says it served 81 percent of the homeless men in Ramsey County in 2012. But that’s not enough. The shelter is overflowing —

“Each night, over 200 mats are laid inches apart where people not only sleep, but also eat meals and try to keep their belongings safe. The overcrowding makes it difficult for caseworkers to assist clients with mental health, job counseling, and permanent housing needs. The Dorothy Day Center is now too often a “crisis management” center rather than a place for temporary respite and connect to opportunities that offer permanent stability.”

That’s not right, and the Dorothy Day Center is proposing a big expansion to better serve homeless people in Ramsey County. The plan has been endorsed by the mayor and by the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press. It calls for providing:

(1) emergency shelter,

(2) permanent housing, and

(3) connections to opportunities that prevent or solve homelessness.

The model for the expansion of Dorothy Day Center is the Opportunity Center and Higher Ground in Minneapolis. Here’s what that looks like, according to the Task Force reporton expanding the Dorothy Day Center:

“Higher Ground provides dignified shelter on the first floor, with the innovation of “pay-for-stay” (private lockers and bunk space for rent which is returned to customers to assist with housing) on the second floor and permanent housing on the five floors above. Those experiencing homelessness, now with some dignity, can aspire to and literally see a permanent home on the higher ground above them. As a result, shelter stays are decreasing; more people have stable, permanent homes, including those who cost the public systems the most as a result of their long-term homelessness.”

The Task Force recommendations include a shelter-and-housing center like Higher Ground, a Connection Center to provide services, preferable co-located with the shelter-and-housing center, and more permanent housing units for homeless people in downtown St. Paul. With an “essentially zero percent” vacancy rate for low-income housing in St. Paul, the need for more permanent housing units is clear. Financing, of course, is key. One of the elements in the plan is bonding, which needs to be approved by the legislature. Here’s the Task Force final report — just 12 pages and not at all technical. As St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman: said in Spotlight on Saint Paul

“The reality is that this should have been done five years ago. Everyone deserves to be in a safe, and dignified, environment – our thinking has evolved on how to achieve that, and it is time to act.”

And here’s a final word from Dorothy Day:

“What we would like to do is change the world–make it a little simpler for people to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves as God intended them to do. And, by fighting for better conditions, by crying out unceasingly for the rights of the workers, the poor, of the destitute–the rights of the worthy and the unworthy poor, in other words–we can, to a certain extent, change the world; we can work for the oasis, the little cell of joy and peace in a harried world.”

Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Funders Collaborative.