A chain-link fence has been added to portions of the Catholic Charities' Dorothy Day Place campus in downtown St. Paul amid unprecedented demand for the organization's services and rising safety concerns.
"This was a difficult decision for us, as it does not align with what we believe in as a trauma-informed organization," Michael Goar, the organization's president and CEO, stated Wednesday. "Unfortunately, we’ve had to make tough choices when the safety and security of our staff and those we serve has been compromised."
The new fencing runs along the Higher Ground Saint Paul and the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation St. Paul Opportunity Center courtyards at the two-building Dorothy Day Place campus, which provides hundreds of supportive apartment units, shelter and other services.
Goar said some of today's emerging challenges were inevitable with temporary shelters in St. Paul closing in quick succession in late spring and early summer once federal pandemic aid dollars ran dry.
The closure of the Freedom House on West 7th Street, for example, left over 200 people without safe daytime shelter.
"Understandably, people in need came to us," Goar wrote. "The rapid increase of individuals on our Dorothy Day campus, combined with difficult medical and behavioral health needs, has resulted in unprecedented demand for our services."
Today, Higher Ground provides 193 supportive apartment units and secure shelter for 172 men and 60 women, according to a Catholic Charities spokesperson.
The Opportunity Center, located across the street and connected to Dorothy Day Residence, provides an array of services aimed at improving health, income, housing stability and well-being. The Residence provides an additional 177 permanent supportive apartments.
The two-building campus serves approximately 1,000 people every day.
St. Paul Police Sgt. David McCabe said the department's staffing agreement with Catholic Charities contracts fours officers at Higher Ground every day; two officers in the evening and two officers at night.
A variation of this arrangement has been in place for over a decade.
Officers at the campus are scheduled in addition to the department's regular downtown and central district patrol officers, according to McCabe, who added the practice is the same as any other business which requests additional police.
According to figures provided by the city, St. Paul saw a ten-fold increase in the number of people sheltering outdoors during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Late last year, the city expanded its response efforts with the creation of the Homeless Assistance Response Team, which monitors homeless encampments and coordinates various agencies in providing resources to individuals experiencing homelessness before the closure of an encampment.
In the last several weeks, HART has cleared and closed encampments at Lower Landing, Newell Park, Cathedral Hill and properties along the Smith Avenue ramp and at Interstate-35 and Kellogg Blvd.
At the height of the pandemic crisis, there were more than 350 people sheltering outdoors in St. Paul. As of this week, HART is aware of approximately 107 individuals living in encampments.