Homeless shelters could soon be allowed in more Minneapolis neighborhoods, following a unanimous vote of a City Council committee to revise some of the city’s zoning rules.
Minneapolis currently only allows shelters that are attached to religious institutions or are downtown. But under the new rules, now headed to the full council for a final vote, emergency and longer-term residential shelters could be permitted in additional areas across the city.
Council Members Lisa Bender and Cam Gordon first proposed the idea a year ago. They said Minneapolis’ unusually restrictive rules for shelters had placed a large burden on religious institutions — including some that had seen their memberships and ability to support a shelter dwindle — and on the handful of neighborhoods that are home to all of the city’s shelters.
The council members held public meetings, including a session with homeless people to discuss options. In drafting the zoning changes, Bender said officials considered concerns raised by neighborhoods and residents about the possibility of several shelters being located near each other. She said the proposal is a compromise that addresses those worries.
“It really reflects the reality of the funding of today’s shelters, it addresses concerns from our LGBT community and others who have not felt comfortable seeking service from those shelters tied to religious institutions and it proposes a policy that doesn’t concentrate shelters in one location,” she said.
The city currently has seven shelters tied to religious institutions. They are located in north Minneapolis, around downtown, and in the Whittier and Phillips neighborhoods just south of downtown.
The changes would allow emergency shelters to be located in nearly all corners of the city, with the exception of areas zoned for industrial use. The number of occupants allowed would depend on the location’s zoning designation. Longer-term residential shelters would be allowed in areas designated for commercial use, which are typically on or around major thoroughfares. Those shelters could house up to 150 people, or one person for every 200 square feet of space, whichever is less. Both types of shelters would require a conditional use permit from the city.
New shelters would have to be located at least 1,000 feet away from other similar facilities.
A city official told council members that shelter developers and operators would have to follow fire codes and other regulations that would make it “cost prohibitive” for someone to try to overhaul a single-family home into a shelter.
St. Paul already allows homeless shelters that are not tied to religious institutions, both downtown and in areas zoned for industrial use. Shelters must be located at least 600 feet apart and require a conditional use permit.
In Minneapolis, Gordon is also working on a separate ordinance that would create a licensing system for emergency shelters, to be administered by the city’s Health Department. He said he hopes to have that proposal ready for a council committee in the near future.