Rochester, Olmsted County re-evaluating options for homeless shelters

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(ABC 6 News) – The future of one of Rochester’s overnight houseless shelters is up in the air.

The Warming Center, which opened as a temporary shelter in 2019, is currently being evaluated by the city and Olmsted County for its operational uses.

“We have a temporary warming shelter, we know that will be coming to the end of its life here in the next bit and we have to start planning for the future,” said Rochester Mayor Kim Norton. “So, I think those funds would be very useful in finding a replacement for the warming center.”

Between the Warming Center and Dorthey Day House, there are only a total of 65 beds of overnight shelter beds in Rochester. This comes as houseless shelters across the city are seeing an increase in visitors on a month-to-month basis.

The Landing, a daytime shelter, has seen an increase in the average number of people from 95 a day in April, to 97 in May. Co-founder Dan Fifield says it’s a real concern if the number of overnight beds dwindles even a year from now.

“I would hope that the county is, has got something in the works,” said Fifield. “Because they’re the ones that are seeing the overnight shelter as far as the space over on Fourth Street.”

Olmsted County confirmed it would not shut down the Warming Center as an overnight shelter until it finalized a commitment to either renovations in its current space or find a new location.

Determining a future location for the warming center is only one solution to the houseless situation throughout Rochester. Local business owners are still seeing a larger amount of houseless individuals come into their businesses daily, asking for help.

Pasquale Presa, the owner of Pasquale’s, wants to help out these individuals as much as he can, but there are limitations to the resources he can provide for them.

“We have an issue because it’s easy to hide it until it’s right in front of us. So we need to act fast. We always talk about, you know we can plan, plan,” Presa said. “But planning comes fast. Small business owners don’t plan for two years down the line, five years down the line. We plan month to month-to-month to month because of the variables that happen.”

One solution that the city of Rochester and Olmsted County is proposing is pop-up tiny house communities for the houseless population. These communities would provide individual spaces with tiny homes but also include shared community utility uses with bathrooms and kitchens.

“They continue to study that and I think are hopeful that some of the legislative funds centering on low-income housing in general and homeless and homeless housing in particular, might be able to bare down here and brought into our community,” said Norton.

Fifield does not agree that would be a promising solution to the already existing problem.

“I don’t think throwing up a bunch of tiny homes will be the solution. We need more emergency shelter beds, there’s just not enough. Eliminating the warming center and putting a bunch of pallet houses or pop-up houses, that’s not going to solve the problem,” said Fifield.