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Demolition paves the way for expansion of St. Paul's Dorothy Day Center

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The expansion of the Dorothy Day Center homeless shelter in downtown St. Paul took a big step forward Monday, as demolition began on a neighboring building that will make way for the new project.

Crews started knocking down the old Labor & Professional Centre at 411 Main St., a block down from the existing Dorothy Day Center, according to MPR News.

In its place will rise a five-story building modeled after Catholic Charities’ Higher Ground Shelter in Minneapolis.

It will have emergency shelter bunks for almost 300 people, along with a separate dining room, a courtyard and nearly 200 single-room apartments on the top three floors, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

It's the first part of the two-phase project that is designed to help the homeless by providing short and long-term shelter as well as other services like health care, job and education training, and access to social services.

The second phase will be built on the site of the current Dorothy Day Center after construction of the first phase is completed in December 2016.

Called the Connection Center, it will be a one-stop assistance center where people can access services and resources from the county, health care providers and Veterans Affairs. It will also include short-term housing. The completion date is scheduled for 2018.

The project is a long time coming. When the Dorothy Day center was built 34 years ago, it initially served coffee and rolls to about 50 men on a day-to-day basis. It now serves about 6,000 people a year.

In 1999 the center was turned into an overnight shelter and by 2011, it reached its capacity and began turning people away. Now the center serves about 440 people a day on average, and more than 250 sleep there overnight, on thin mats spread out across the floor.

According to the project website, St. Paul has seen a 30 percent increase in residents living in poverty since 2007, and the area has virtually no housing available for low-income residents.

Catholic Charities, which owns Dorothy Day, is in the midst of a fundraising campaign for the $100 million project.

The organization hopes to raise $40 million from private donations, with the rest coming from a mixture of public funding, bonding and tax credits, according to the Star Tribune.

So far the campaign has raised nearly $30 million in public funds and about $10 million in private funds.

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