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St. Paul unveils $63M homeless plan; Day Center's days may be numbered

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A task force is scheduled Friday to unveil an ambitious new $63 million plan to overhaul homeless services in St. Paul and replace the 32-year-old Dorothy Day with new facilities.

Each night, about 250 homeless people cram into the shabby confines of the brick building downtown that was never designed to be an overnight shelter, and wasn't equipped to handle more than 50 people at a time, MPR News reports. They bed down inches from each other on mats crowded on the floor.

"It is falling apart," Catholic Charities chief executive Tim Marx told the Pioneer Press. Catholic Charities runs the Day center. "People aren't being treated with dignity. It is an emergency situation. ... It's a tragedy for the community."

On Friday, a city-led task force will outline a plan to replace the Day Center with a five-level building that would house a 320-person emergency shelter on the ground level and 150 upper-story single-occupancy rooms and efficiency apartments, the Pioneer Press reports.

The concept behind the project is based on Catholic Charities' innovative year-old Common Ground approach in Minneapolis, where homeless people move from emergency shelter to more permanent housing as they get their lives on track.

According to the plan, construction could begin in 2015 on the new facility with a 2016 target date for opening. That building is proposed for a northeast corner of downtown near the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center on Lafayette Road.

A second phase of the project would be construct new permanent housing near the current Day Center, off W. 7th Street near the Xcel arena.

The project would be led by Catholic Charities and financed with public and private funding, which has not yet been finalized, the Star Tribune reports.

The Day center serves about 6,000 homeless people a year. "It's nasty," in the center, said Kenneth Davis, who told MPR he had been homeless about a year and would welcome the proposed changes. "Move it! To a larger facility. It needs a large building that supports people to get out of homelessness, instead of making it feel like they ain't worth nothing."

The Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless reports that about 14,000 Minnesotans are homeless on any given night, and children and youths ages 21 and younger make up 46 percent of the homeless population.

According to the Wilder homeless survey in Minnesota last year, homelessness in the state increased 6 percent between 2009 and 2012.

Here's a glimpse inside the Day Center:

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