After two years of impassioned pitches, Catholic Charities has reached its $40 million private fundraising goal for Dorothy Day Place — two new buildings in downtown St. Paul that offer social services and housing to help people move out of homelessness.
Now the nonprofit is lobbying state lawmakers to step up with $27 million needed to complete the $100 million project that, when finished, will be the largest public-private housing and social services partnership in the state’s history.
The new facility replaces Dorothy Day’s former emergency shelter where the homeless slept on floor mats, an arrangement that Catholic Charities leaders characterized as undignified.
Phase one of the project, called Higher Ground, opened in January and provides accommodations for 473 people ranging from emergency shelter beds to apartments.
Catholic Charities plans to tear down the old Dorothy Day Center and break ground this summer on the second phase, called the St. Paul Opportunity Center, if it receives $12 million in the state bonding bill and an additional $15 million in housing infrastructure bonds.
“Our work is not finished. We need to finish the opportunity center. We are ready to go. We need to go,” said Catholic Charities President and CEO Tim Marx.
“Investors tell us they will start walking and costs are increasing. We need to be in the ground this summer.”
The opportunity center will include 177 additional housing units and office space for social services.
Several officials, including Marx, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minnesota Housing Commissioner Mary Tingerthal, pressed legislators this week to include Dorothy Day Place in this year’s bonding bill. It’s in Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget and the Senate bonding bill, but it’s not in the House bill.
Coleman called it an “absolutely essential project” that creates a pathway out of homelessness.
‘An affirming journey’
More than 450 donors contributed to the $40 million private fundraising goal, and on Friday nonprofit leaders, volunteers and donors paused to celebrate.
Donations ranged from a few bucks to $5 million from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation, the Best Buy founder’s charity arm.
“It has been such a wonderful and affirming journey to appreciate the goodness and the generosity and the capacity of this community,” Marx said.
A who’s who of business talent was called upon to manage the fundraising. Co-chairs of the fundraising committee were HealthPartners President and CEO Mary Brainerd, Ecolab Chairman and CEO Doug Baker and U.S. Bank CEO and President Andy Cecere.
Catholic Charities’ innovative approach to helping people out of homelessness sold the project to donors, Baker said.
“The need, Catholic Charities’ vision and confidence in the Catholic Charities management team all coalesced to drive the type of momentum you want to see in a campaign,” Baker said.
The new Dorothy Day center offers three tiers of accommodations under the same roof: free emergency bunk beds, more private nightly cot and locker rentals, and apartments coupled with an array of services including a veterans’ resource hub, a health clinic and a workforce development training center.
“That is one of the real strengths of the concept — a hand up. If you can get them a stable situation right away, you can right the ship,” Baker said.
David and Kimpa Moss of Eden Prairie donated time and money to the project. They became involved with Catholic Charities five years after attending the nonprofit’s annual St. Nicholas dinner.
“We went to the dinner and heard their vision. It resonated with me personally because I have a high passion for working with people who are experiencing homelessness or other crises,” David Moss said.
As he became acquainted with the charity, its volunteers and clients, Moss said he realized how a few wrong turns or strokes of bad luck could send anyone into homelessness.
Before the first phase of Higher Ground opened, Moss and his daughter helped wash 1,400 bedsheets for the facility’s new residents. As he was washing and folding, he thought about the individuals who would be resting on the clean sheets.
To him, he said, it was a message to them: “You matter to me. I see you. You are loved.”