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Friday, January 10, 2014

A note from the Mayor: Homelessness

Two very important things happened at the end of December, and the beginning of this new year.

Mayor Chris Coleman
First, multiple state agencies unveiled a plan to end homelessness in Minnesota. The next day, a commission I formed laid out their plan to end it in Saint Paul.

10,000 Minnesotans – half of whom are young people-- find themselves looking for some sort of shelter each night in Minnesota. The state effort, which involves a partnership between 11 state agencies and the full support of me and my administration, is the most ambitious effort in state history—combining both housing construction and a mix of preventative strategies.

Here in Saint Paul, we face a similar challenge. Thirty-two years ago, business, government, faith and community leaders in Saint Paul worked together to open the doors to the Dorothy Day Center, where people could stop in for a cup of coffee and a roll. It was supposed to be short-term, as homelessness was thought to be a temporary problem in the Twin Cities. We all know it wasn’t temporary, and a lot has changed since then.

Today, homelessness in Minnesota is at an all-time high, and the Dorothy Day Center is overflowing. Some of our most vulnerable citizens are not getting the help they need at a time when they need it the most. This deteriorating building has become a crisis management center, rather than a place of hope and opportunity. And it certainly does not provide the dignity that each person deserves.

On December 20, a taskforce of civic, business and philanthropic leaders I commissioned unveiled a strategy to begin effectively ending homelessness in Saint Paul. It includes constructing a new multi-level building, made up of an emergency center on the ground level, upper-level rooms as well as efficiency apartments. It would connect to a job-training and social services building. The plan not only gives those in need the real feeling of upward mobility as they work to become self-sustaining, but the tools to get there.  And the Dorothy Day Center would be replaced with affordable housing.

The reality is that this should have been done five years ago. Everyone deserves to be in a safe, and dignified, environment – our thinking has evolved on how to achieve that, and it is time to act.

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