Concerns are being raised about whether plans for a new Dorothy Day Center near downtown St. Paul would tie up parking spaces and concentrate the poor and homeless in an area that already hosts a number of social services.
“There’s an awful lot of activity that they’re focusing in that little quadrant,” said St. Paul City Council Member Dan Bostrom, who last week called for a roll-call vote on the council’s decision to seek $22 million in state bonds for the project.
Responding to neighborhood concerns over the proposed location for the Catholic Charities complex, two St. Paul City Council members will chair a committee to get residential and business feedback.
The plan, which won support from the public and private sectors when it was announced before Christmas, calls for building two of three new Dorothy Day facilities across Interstate 94 from the northeast corner of downtown.
Bostrom joined the council in voting to forward the bonding request to the Legislature and said he agrees that new facilities are needed. A Wilder report shows that the number of Minnesotans in daily need of housing rose by 6 percent since 2009.
But Bostrom said the facilities should be built on the best site and not simply where land is available. “I’m not trying to push any particular site. I’m just saying, let’s be careful with the site selection,” he said.
Backers of the plan said the northeast site was chosen for the security provided by the nearby police headquarters and law enforcement center on Lafayette Road, and its proximity to transit, the Union Gospel Mission and Ramsey County’s new chemical and mental health center.
One building there would offer a range of housing options, from shelter to apartments. The other would provide services such as computer labs, job referrals, and meals and housing resources. A third building, offering permanent housing, is planned for the current Dorothy Day site, near the Xcel Energy Center.
Council Member Dave Thune, who will chair the committee with Amy Brendmoen, said that public discussion is fine but that nearby residents and businesses have nothing to worry about. His downtown and West Side ward takes in both the current Dorothy Day site and the proposed site near downtown.
“Dorothy Day and Mary Hall have been in my ward forever and it hasn’t caused an uptick in crime,” he said. “I know East Side neighbors are nervous, but I don’t think there’s going to be any effect at all.” He said the facilities will result in more foot traffic downtown, not in the Payne-Phalen or Dayton’s Bluff neighborhoods.
State DFL Rep. Tim Mahoney, who represents the district next door to the proposed site, said the East Side business community is worried that recent investments they’ve made will lose ground to an influx of more people seeking help in that area. The issue, he said, had united both conservative and liberal residents of his district.
“At what point does the concentration of poverty turn into something called dumping?” he said. “People feel like they didn’t have any say in this whatsoever.”