Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis is dropping its refugee resettlement and adoption programs and diving deeper into its other work, especially programs combating homelessness and helping at-risk children.
Tim Marx, the organization’s CEO, unveiled the new priorities this week. The dramatic pivot comes as Catholic Charities, which over its 150 years has been one of the Twin Cities’ most influential charitable organizations, saw participation in its adoption program decline, and the Trump administration’s immigration policies led to a slump in the number of refugees arriving in Minnesota.
At the same time, Marx said, Catholic Charities has seen demand for other services increase.
“If we don’t adapt to the changing world, like any organization, we are going to be left behind,” Marx said. “This community needs Catholic Charities. That places a special responsibility on us to keep up to date, to keep moving and respond to new needs.”
A big part of that new work will focus on the St. Joseph’s Home for Children, which is often the first stop for at-risk kids removed from their homes by police and social workers. The charity has a long-standing contract with Hennepin County to provide emergency shelter for kids, and Marx said it is time to refresh those programs to help the 1,100 kids in their care each year. The nonprofit would also like to upgrade the century-old facilities, which originally operated as an orphanage.
The changes won’t have a major impact on the charity’s $70 million annual budget, Marx said, but will lead to about 20 job cuts out of about 640 employees. The new priorities and program cuts were driven by data analysis and research, he said. For instance, long-term stays at St. Joseph’s emergency shelter for kids have grown from an average 17 days a few years back to more than 40 days.
Hennepin County officials, who work closely with Catholic Charities, applauded the new emphasis and said they share goals of intervening earlier and reducing trauma to children. “It’s always great in partnership to hit refresh,” said Jennifer DeCubellis, Hennepin County deputy county administrator for health and human services. “They have the best interest of the kids and families we serve and are true partners in the community.”
Catholic Charities hopes to expand and improve its other youth and family services, including the Northside Child Development Center, school-based counseling, day treatment for children with emotional needs, and in-home counseling for at-risk families.
But they will close a 30-bed inpatient treatment program for youths with emotional and behavioral challenges on the St. Joseph campus. While the need for these services remains high, Catholic Charities Chief Operating Officer Laurie Ohmann said they made a strategic decision to focus on its other youth and family programs.
“The outcomes we really want to focus on are with kids and adults — really two-generational in nature,” Ohmann said.
Catholic Charities will continue sheltering the homeless and connecting those individuals to safe, permanent housing, work opportunities and social services, Marx said. Phase two of Dorothy Day Place in downtown St. Paul is currently under construction. The $100 million public/private partnership on the site of the old Dorothy Day homeless shelter includes emergency shelter beds, affordable apartments and, when complete, an array of social services.
Meanwhile, Catholic Charities’ refugee resettlement program has shrunk amid changes in federal immigration policy. It plans to shutter the program by late summer.
From 2012 to 2017, Catholic Charities accounted for about 12 percent of the total number of refugee resettlements in Minnesota. In the last fiscal year, it resettled 167 refugees, compared with the 500 resettled by Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, which has long been the state’s largest charity with a hand in refugee resettlement.
Last year, the Trump administration beefed up security screening requirements and slashed the annual refugee arrival ceiling by more than half, to 45,000 nationally. The changes have led to a marked slowdown of refugee arrivals in Minnesota, traditionally one of the country’s key resettlement destinations.
The government extended a pause on arrivals from 11 countries, including Somalia — a top country for refugees coming to Minnesota — and suspended indefinitely a family reunification program used by many refugees already resettled here to reunite with spouses and children. Since the start of the federal fiscal year on Oct. 1, 2017, through February 2018, about 240 refugees arrived in the state, compared with 1,180 during the same period the previous year.
The agencies receive federal funding for each refugee they resettle, and the slowdown in arrivals has triggered staff layoffs and other cuts in these organizations locally. Lean stretches are not anything new, said Ryan Allen, an expert on resettlement at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, noting a dramatic drop after 9/11 as an example.
But, he said, “the big difference here is that for the foreseeable future, it’s going to be more of the same.”
Bob Oehrig, executive director of Arrive Ministries, another of the five Twin Cities refugee resettlement agencies, decried the federal changes that underpinned Catholic Charities’ decision to stop resettling refugees locally. “We are saddened by this decision by our colleagues and friends at Catholic Charities,” he said. “But with refugee numbers nationally greatly reduced and the number coming to Minnesota about 25 percent of recent years, hard decisions are being made not just in Minnesota, but across the nation.”
Less participation also prompted the closure of Catholic Charities’ adoption program, which ceased operations more than a year ago, Ohmann said. “The numbers were small. We were down to five, six, seven adoptions a year,” she said, which echoes a national decline in both international and domestic adoptions.
Catholic Charities sent letters to donors and community partners outlining the changes. “It’s absolutely the right thing to do — refresh our strategy and look at how the needs of this community have changed,” said Catholic Charities Board Chairman Tom Arata.