In an action that seemed to make no one happy, the St. Paul City Council on Wednesday allowed a drop-in center for the homeless and the needy to continue offering services in a church basement but slapped a bevy of conditions on its operation, including limiting it to serving 20 visitors a day.
Afterward, angry Dayton’s Bluff neighbors, who say Listening House’s necessary services are nonetheless inappropriate for a neighborhood with small children, said the conditions do nothing to address their concerns with drunkenness, litter and trespassing. In another corridor outside the council chambers, Listening House officials lamented having to restrict the number of people they can help. The 20-person daily limit will go into effect April 2, 2018.
“We know we’re going to be turning away people who need our help,” said Cheryl Peterson, executive director of Listening House. “I guess the good news is we won’t force anyone out into the cold.”
Listening House serves an average of 65 people a day, she said, with that number rising to 125 on a recent bitterly cold day.
Council Member Jane Prince, who represents the area where Listening House moved this past summer, said she knows neither side is happy. She would have preferred that the two sides reach some sort of compromise on their own.
The conditions, set forth by the city’s planning commission, are an attempt to limit the troubling activities by Listening House visitors that neighbors have documented since the center opened in their midst.
“I hope they still can get together to work out something,” Prince said. “I will reach out to both sides.”
Listening House was once located downtown, near the Dorothy Day Center. But when Dorothy Day expanded, the drop-in center had to move. It relocated to the basement of First Lutheran Church in Dayton’s Bluff, and since June area residents have been logging Listening House visitor misbehavior, including sleeping on benches, urinating in yards, getting into altercations and leaving piles of garbage.
Milan Mackovak, who lives a block from the church, said a Listening House visitor was even found sleeping in the hallway of his apartment building.
“It just doesn’t fit here,” he said.
Kristenza Nelson and other neighbors expressed frustration after the council’s 5-2 vote in favor of the new conditions. Council Members Rebecca Noecker and Chris Tolbert voted no, saying they disagreed with the 20-person daily limit. It isn’t that the neighbors believe the center’s services aren’t needed, she said. But the fact that Listening House doesn’t screen visitors for sex offenders or require visitors to be sober makes it a poor fit for a residential neighborhood with small children nearby.
“We have never said, ‘Go away,’ ” she said. “But this does nothing to address our concerns.”