Earlier this morning, the Dorothy Day Center in St Paul hosted its annual community breakfast. The purpose of these yearly events is to raise awareness of the homeless situation in Minnesota while looking towards what the future holds for both the Dorothy Day Center and the population that it serves.
The building used by Catholic Charities for the Dorothy Day Center is old and is not up to code. While the city gives it a yearly exemption, Catholic Charities is looking forward to an updated facility with enough beds to serve the homeless population.
“We don’t ever want to go through another winter short on beds,” says City Council member Dave Thune, who represents Downtown Saint Paul. “We have a responsibility.”
Mayor Chris Coleman has put together a task force to address Dorothy Day Center’s future. One question that has already arisen is where the best location may be for the Dorothy Day Center.
Matt Kramer, president of the St Paul Chamber of Commerce and co-chair of the mayor’s new task force, ponders if the current space is “conducive to the dignity of the people receiving services?”
This morning’s MinnPost asks, “Should there be a new facility at the same site or a new location, say, one closer to new light rail stations?”
The Dorothy Day Center is currently located at a spot that may be considered an entrance to the city from the west. With the building being older, it contrasts sharply with the new parking facilities nearby and the Xcel Energy Center. Due to its proximity to several parking lots and facilities, it is obviously premium property.
Moving Dorothy Day Center to the light rail line is in step with the city’s current push to move low-income residents and the nonprofits that serve these residents to neighborhoods along the Green Line. It makes for a nice swath of project-esque neighborhoods where people like Mr. Kramer might hope these types of residents stay so that the higher priced businesses and their customers don’t have to notice them.
Catholic Charities CEO Tim Marx says that the task force will focus on three things, “Meeting shelter needs, providing services that lead to permanent housing, and ensuring enough affordable housing.”
One would hope that involves asking questions about what is preventing the homeless from finding more permanent housing? The Chamber of Commerce, the St Paul Foundation, and the partnering corporations can advise our city government all they want as to what they think the city needs and the homeless population needs. But, building more shelters in other locations with more beds is only a temporary fix for a long term problem. The task force needs leaders that are truly willing to understand the challenges one faces when homeless and be willing to do the hard job of meeting those needs to help this population find more permanent employment and housing.
One example of leadership in Saint Paul is the couple that owns Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles. This couple collects bicycles that people no longer want, fixes them, and gives them away to people who need them. Many of the people who receive the bicycles are residents of sober housing, low-income, or homeless.
According to the League of American Bicyclists website, “One social worker, who has received several bicycles for his homeless clients from Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles, reported that each client who had received a bicycle has been able to get a job due to having reliable transportation. They then can afford to get an apartment and are no longer homeless.”
The shiniest, most modern facility will never provide as much dignity as the actions that empower people to be successful members of society. One hopes that Mayor Coleman’s new task force follows the example set by Mr. Michael Recycles Bicycles, enabling people to envision their dreams rather than just gifting the homeless population with a brand new shelter, moved out of sight and forgotten.