A crisis residence for people with mental illness will relocate to a former convent on St. Paul’s East Side, pending City Council approval Wednesday of a rezoning request.
The request, recommended by the city’s planning commission, has faced several delays — most recently having to do with neighborhood concerns about parking.
But proponents of the Diane Ahrens Crisis Residence last week urged the City Council to delay no longer, saying the lack of action has less to do with parking than with fears and misperceptions about people suffering from mental illness.
“It’s always one excuse after another,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of the National Association on Mental Illness in Minnesota. “There is no legal or valid reason to block this proposal.”
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, a co-chairman of the East Metro Mental Health Roundtable, supports the move, said Nancy Homans, a policy director for the mayor. She was joined at a news conference last week by Ramsey County Board Chairman Jim McDonough, who represents the East Side, other advocates, and people with mental illness.
“As elected officials, we need to lead,” McDonough said, adding that he has been talking with council members and neighborhood residents in an effort to gain support.
State Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson and officials with several mental health advocacy groups have written letters of support, as well.
The residence is seeking to move from the Hamline-Midway neighborhood to the former home of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in the 1700 block of Lacrosse Ave., just off White Bear Avenue. The 16-bed facility needs more room for programming and a commercial kitchen, officials say.
But before the move can take place, the former convent property needs to be rezoned from single-family use to townhouse-residential use. The planning commission recommended the change. The City Council was scheduled to vote on it at its Aug. 26 meeting.
But that vote was pushed back two weeks after neighbors raised concerns about parking.
The proposed center will serve adults with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder during stays of one to 10 days. It is not for people who are violent or who need hospitalization.
The new residence would provide three off-street parking spots, officials said, more than enough for residents who do not drive to the site or for the five staff members on duty at any one time.
Ben Ashley-Wurtmann, a lobbyist for Mental Health Minnesota who has suffered from depression and anxiety, recalled times as a teenager when his only option for help were police calls to his home and trips to the emergency room — when all he really needed was a quiet place where professionals could help stabilize him. Ashley-Wurtmann, 32, said: “That time [in the ER] never helped. It only made things worse.”
He said the crisis residence, run by People Inc., is desperately needed.
“People Inc. is a very trusted provider,” he said.
Jill Wiedemann-West, CEO of People Inc., said the residence is for “clients in and of the St. Paul area.” The current facility — two older homes connected by a breezeway — is no longer sufficient for the programming and other services the residence provides. The time to act, she said, is now.
“We need the City Council to be courageous and move forward,” she said.