Tim Marx watched Wednesday morning as an excavator tore off the front of the old Dorothy Day homeless shelter in downtown St. Paul.
The squat, red-brick building, which provided overnight shelter and warm meals for the needy for 24 years, is being demolished to make room for Catholic Charities’ new $100 million campus and service center to help people out of homelessness, scheduled to be completed in 2019.
“It’s bittersweet,” said Marx, CEO of Catholic Charities in the Twin Cities. “So much good happened there, but it became worn down and it started to lose its mojo. We had to do something new.”
The sleek campus, which will have more windows and light inside, will mark a dramatic change for one of downtown St. Paul’s most visible gateways, just across from the Xcel Energy Center.
Phase I of what will be called Dorothy Day Place opened across the street from the old shelter in January and already houses nearly 500 people in a range of accommodations, including emergency shelter beds, pay-for-stay interim housing and permanent apartments.
Phase II, to be built on the old shelter site, will include 177 apartments, a health clinic, mental health services, a career center and a veterans’ resource hub. Services will be provided by a variety of partner organizations, including Ramsey County, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and health care providers. The two buildings will be connected with a skyway.
Marx said that affordable apartments for veterans, young adults aging out of foster care and others struggling with homelessness comprise one of the most urgently needed features of the new campus.
“We have such a tight housing market,” he said. “Vulnerable people are being squeezed out.”
The shelter now being torn down was built in 1981 and was originally designed as a day center. Citing overwhelming need, Catholic Charities turned it into an overnight shelter in the early 1990s. After serving meals there, staffers would clear tables and chairs and put down thin mats for people to sleep shoulder to shoulder.
By 2011, the shelter was so crowded that staffers had to turn people away. The building had a courtyard facing the Xcel Center that often drew crowds of people waiting to go inside.
The new campus includes a more dignified emergency shelter with bunk beds and services to help those facing homelessness establish themselves with a home, job and services, according to Catholic Charities staffers.
It also includes a much larger outdoor space on the side, enhancing security and privacy for Dorothy Day clients and improving the streetscape.
“We want to be a good neighbor,” said Marx, who said smart design was a critical element in the project. “We want people to feel proud of it — something they would be comfortable living in themselves.”
The Dorothy Day Place campus is the largest public-private social services collaboration in Minnesota history. The state and local governments are paying for $60 million, and donations account for the rest.
“We are fully funded and so grateful,” Marx said.