Rochester homeless shelters overwhelmed, city looks to ramp up housing support

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(ABC 6 News) – The Rochester City Council discussed homelessness in the city at their meeting Monday night — responding to a call to action from a city-county shelter workgroup.

The presentation by the Shelter Work Group created in 2022, was two-fold. It was an update on homelessness in the area, and it was also a list of recommendations for the city to take action.

City and county representatives from the work group told the council that there are around 15-20 evictions a week in Olmsted County, and the warming center has had to turn away around 20 people in the last few weeks because they are at capacity.

The workgroup says the city and county are running out of emergency assistance funding, and the Rochester Community Warming Center building is old and outdated.

“We’re getting calls all the time on our housing stability line from families who are really on that brink, or actually homeless staying in their vehicles. So there is a need anecdotally and we’re hearing it on the phone,” said Mary O’Neil, a leader in the Shelter Work Group.

Council members sounded eager to take the recommendations and work towards implementation.

“I was always blown away, usually by the complexity of the story, and of the needs that were quite diverse from person to person,” said Councilmember Norman Wahl of his interactions with people experiencing homelessness at his church.

Recommendations in the presentation included, but are not limited to, creating a group made up of leaders from public, private, and nonprofit agencies to find solutions, either fixing up the current Warming Center or finding a new location and creating new, paid, city or county positions for peer support.

That could mean finding people who previously experienced homelessness and pairing them with someone currently experiencing homelessness to establish trust and overcome obstacles.

All the council did Monday night was acknowledge and approve the recommendations. If there are any initiatives with policy or fiscal impacts, the workgroup will come back to the council for another vote.

The full presentation can be viewed here.