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Dorothy Day relocation cancelled
East Siders breathe a sigh of relief
With the plans to relocate the Dorothy Day Center closer to the East Side cancelled, some East Siders are breathing easier.
The decision to scrap the plan was announced on Monday, Feb. 10, by St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
“We are quite pleased that the city has changed its mind on the proposed site for the Dorothy Day ReVision Center,” said Leslie McMurray, director of the Payne-Phalen Community Council.
Catholic Charities was looking to put the proposed Dorothy Day ReVision Center, as it has been dubbed, on a state-owned parcel of land near the intersection of University Avenue and Lafayette Road.
The proposed site drew criticism and pressure from East Side officials and residents, who complained that the relocation would equate to a further concentration of poverty in the lower East Side.
Faced with pressure from community members and officials, a Dorothy Day Center task force opted to look at building a new facility on the center’s current site, just across the street from the Xcel Energy Center in downtown St. Paul.
Coleman said the change in location was in part due to the urgency of the situation -- Catholic Charities is pushing for legislative bonding funds in this year’s session, so the timeline was tight.
“We are confident that, with time, concerns about the proposed location could have been resolved,” Coleman said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have the amount of time necessary to resolve these concerns.”
A task force including the mayor, Saint Paul Foundation president Carleen Rhodes and Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce president Matt Kramer, along with Catholic Charities CEO Tim Marx, came to the decision together, Coleman said.
“This change allows all of the stakeholders, who understand that homelessness is a statewide problem and requires a statewide strategy, to now unite and build a public-private partnership to advance the Dorothy Day ReVision as a key element to preventing and ending homelessness in Minnesota,” Coleman wrote.
East Siders applaud decision
Chris Schweitzer, board member at the Payne-Phalen district council, said the decision is “absolutely the wise way to go, both for the Dorothy Day Center and for the East Side.”
Schweitzer, who opposed the proposed site, added that he’s supportive of Dorothy Day expanding, just not near the East Side.
“They have a terrific mission, and they’re a terrific organization,” he said of the Dorothy Day Center.
Donald Lorr, Railroad Island resident and chair of the district council’s Railroad Island Task Force, seconded that sentiment.
“We feel like we were heard and that we were taken into account,” he said.
Lorr said the East Side is an area “that has suffered for some time under the weight of poverty and homelessness,” and because of this, residents are sympathetic to Catholic Charities’ goals for improving the Dorothy Day Center facilities.
While neighbors weren’t supportive of the proposed location, they are “certainly interested in finding a solution for the city and for the state,” he said.
Tim Marx, CEO of Catholic Charities, said that while the process of interacting with the East Side community posed challenges, “it was a very energizing and enlightening process.”
He said the organization came to understand the neighborhood’s concerns.
Marx said that rebuilding on the current site will pose challenges -- for one, they’ll have to figure out how to do construction so that they’re still able to provide emergency shelter.
But, on a positive side, without neighborhood opposition, he said securing funding ought to be easier.
In addition, Catholic Charities’ proposal states that the Dorothy Day Center in its current location is less than ideal for clients, in that they feel like they’re on display when they hang out near the facility, at the busy downtown intersection of West Fifth and Seventh streets.
Marx said the new building would have to be “a significant effort in really good urban design” to change this aspect of the location for clients.
According to Catholic Charities board member Bev Turner, the organization’s Dorothy Day Center, which provides emergency shelter for over 250 adults a night, has long been in need of a new facility. The building was originally built to hold 50 people for drop-in shelter, not emergency shelter.
According to a report from Catholic Charities, “the Dorothy Day Center has now reached the breaking point. There is often not enough room for all who come to the door, and the space itself is crowded and deteriorating.
“People like Karl, a frequent visitor, are provided mats and meals and yearn, as he says, for ‘a job and a place of his own.’
“We are failing Karl, so many others like him, ourselves and the entire community,” the report reads.
Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.