A pair of Minneapolis City Council members are looking for residents’ input as the city reconsiders its rules for where emergency homeless shelters can be located.
Council Members Lisa Bender and Cam Gordon are holding the first of two community meetings Monday to share the research they and others at the city have done about how other communities handle shelters and to gather suggestions. The two are looking to overhaul Minneapolis’ current zoning laws, which require most shelters in the city to be located in a religious institution. The only area in the city where shelters can operate independent of a church, synagogue, mosque or other religious institution is downtown.
Bender said Minneapolis’ restrictions, which date to the 1990s, are rare. Research compiled by city staff members about similar-sized cities around the country didn’t turn up any cities with similar rules.
“We’ve learned that restricting overnight shelters only to religious institutions is very rare; we can’t find other cities that regulate their shelters in such a restrictive way,” Bender said. “So I think there’s a lot of precedent out there from other cities to open up other locations for overnight shelters.”
The city has seven shelters linked to religious institutions. Most are located just south of downtown, in and around the Whittier neighborhood, or on the city’s North Side.
Both council members said they’re aware of concerns from some residents and neighborhood groups about shelters being clustered in small areas, rather than spread more evenly across the city. At the same time, they’ve also heard from groups that run shelters and people who have been homeless that a location close to transportation and to downtown is crucial to help people get to jobs and service offices.
Gordon said the issue was first brought to him by some of the churches that provide shelter services. Some have struggled to maintain their congregations and are suffering financially. In some cases, Gordon said, it seems the churches are holding on only to keep the shelter running — and worry about the people who stay there if the shelter closed.
“They were saying: What’s going to happen to the shelter when our church goes away?” Gordon said.
The city’s planning commission will take up potential changes before they are forwarded to the council for approval. Bender said she expects the process might take a few months.
The first meeting will be held Monday at 6 p.m. at the Minneapolis American Indian Center, located at 1530 E Franklin Av. A second meeting will be held July 27 at the Hennepin Country North Regional Library at 1315 Lowry Av. N.