A group of business owners and residents in St. Paul's W. 7th Street neighborhood say the Freedom House day shelter is a nuisance that adversely impacts their work and quality of life, according to a lawsuit filed Friday against the city.

The group, which includes the owners of Tom Reid's Hockey City Pub, Art Farm Advertising and 262 Fort Road, seeks damages and the suspension of services at Freedom House until safety standards are raised. The suit alleges 100 incidents that have threatened community members since the shelter opened in January, including open drug use, trespassing, knife fights and the assault of an employee.

"Freedom House should not be permitted to operate at its current location without significant measures taken to ensure the safety and well-being of the community," said the suit filed in Ramsey County District Court.

Freedom House is one of two drop-in facilities in St. Paul that serve people experiencing homelessness. The centers provide a place to stay during the day and showers, food and other services.

"Every chance that we get to tell our story brings an opportunity to advance our mission, and the situation we now find ourselves in is no different," Listening House Executive Director Molly Jalma said in an e-mail. Listening House operates Freedom House.

The City Council is scheduled to vote Wednesday on an ordinance that would allow smaller shelters in areas zoned as business districts. Advocating for the shelter's closure, local business owners have attended council meetings and met weekly with Council Member Rebecca Noecker, who represents the area.

In November 2020, Mayor Melvin Carter and the council gave Freedom House emergency authorization to operate in the W. 7th Street neighborhood. The council in December entered into a lease with Listening House, with three six-month terms.

The suit alleges the lease contains no requirements that Freedom House maintain specific safety standards. The plaintiffs ask that the shelter suspend services until it applies for and receives a variance allowed under city code.

City spokesman Peter Leggett said the city will continue to prosecute cases involving unlawful conduct, but that there is no basis for legal action or civil liability against the city for the nuisance behavior of third parties.

"The law is clear that experiencing homelessness is not a crime," said City Attorney Lyndsey Olson.

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