Adults struggling with mental illnesses will soon have a tranquil new place to heal, thanks to compassionate leadership by the St. Paul City Council and Mayor Chris Coleman.
The proposed move by the Diane Ahrens Crisis Residence from the city’s Hamline-Midway neighborhood to a spacious former convent on the East Side had been in doubt this summer. Local activists at first objected to the zoning change required for the facility’s proposed use.
When their zoning concerns proved unfounded, the activists then wanted the nonprofit treatment program to buy a $224,000 house next door to provide additional off-street parking. Had that expensive and unnecessary request been met, the goalposts likely would have moved again.
But last week, five council members — Russ Stark, Dave Thune, Dai Thao, Amy Brendmoen and Chris Tolbert — voted to approve the Ahrens center’s request. In doing so, they followed the city’s regulations and policies, contrary to the complaints of Dan Bostrom, a council member who voted against the move. They also sent a strong message about St. Paul community values and set an admirable example for other cities weighing community-based treatment centers.
The Ahrens center provides short-term stays for those who need intensive treatment for conditions such as anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder but don’t require a hospital stay. Minnesota’s mental health care system sorely needs more community-based centers like this for both adults and children.
Unfortunately, dated fears about mental illnesses and narrow-minded, not-in-my-backyard objections often make it difficult for this type of center to open or relocate. By approving the Ahrens move, the St. Paul City Council along with Coleman, who advocated for the center, may have smoothed the way for similar facilities elsewhere. That is a praiseworthy achievement.