Olmsted County lays out plan to turn apartments into homeless shelter

Published: Sep. 12, 2023 at 8:37 PM CDT
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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – Olmsted County, state and city officials laid out a plan Tuesday to turn apartments in Rochester into an overnight shelter for people experiencing homelessness.

The property in question is Residences at Old Town Hall at 607 E Center Street. It is an apartment building that offers efficiency units. It’s next to Mayo Field and close to Mayo Clinic. Jeff Allman has owned the property since 2007.

City of Rochester Mayor Kim Norton said the homelessness issue has been growing over the past few years, especially since the pandemic.

“It was just a few months after I became mayor, that we started seeing people camping in our skyways,” she said.

The Minnesota Department of Human Services is seeking applications to construct or renovate emergency shelters for people experiencing homelessness. The release said officials hope to show a firsthand understanding of the property’s suitability for a center which will include emergency shelter, community services and supportive housing.

Olmsted County is applying for the state grant.

Olmsted County Executive Director of Olmsted County Housing and Redevelopment said the total cost of the project is around $12.7 million, with $10 million coming from grant money and the rest would come from HRA levy and private donors and investors. The plan is to turn part of the building into low-income housing and other part into a shelter for people experiencing homelessness. It would be 80 units total.

“We’re looking at this a long-term approach to not only provide emergency shelter to people in need but provide the pathway to stable housing and success,” Dunn said. “We all have a role to play. Whether it’s the city, the county, whether it’s the faith-based community like Catholic Charities. Whether it’s our nonprofits, our downtown businesses and stake holders. We all really have to have a part in the solutions, because it really does take all of us to bring this together and holistically approach how do we help people.”

The building currently has 17 occupied units. The rest of the building is used by Luther College and nonprofit House of Shields, which offers temporary housing for law enforcement officers going through medical treatment.

Jeff Allman said housing like this is big need in the community.

“These people are already here, living in the cemetery, squatting wherever they can find place for shelter, going through the dumpsters for food, we see them every day. The existing facilities are inadequate,” Allman said.

Allman and Dunn said the current residents will not be pushed out and are welcome to stay. Allman said The House of Shields will be moved to a different location. The Luther College lease expires in May 2025. The new shelter is expected to open around that same time.

Opening the new shelter means the current Warming Center across from the Government Center would close.

Ward 4 city council member Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick expressed concern about the plan and its possible effects on the neighborhood.

“I wish I would’ve had more notice. Just not me, but Matthew who is the president of the neighborhood association currently. It would’ve been nice for the county to do that. Understanding, however, the county doesn’t have the same rules that the city follows.”

Kirkpatrick said she hopes the county will be transparent and communicative with the neighborhood.

“We have ongoing, weekly issues with drug abuse, with homelessness, with trespassing, with theft,” Kirkpatrick said. “It is going to ramp it up, I believe. I trust that the county will hear the neighborhood voices before construction starts and they’re going to keep us in the loop, and I trust that collaboration will be very valuable.”

Matthew Romanauski, the President of the Eastside Neighborhood Association issued the following statement:

“The Eastside Neighborhood Association board is following Olmsted County Housing and Rehabilitation’s pursuit of grant funding toward its housing stability initiative plans. This latest proposal includes using grant funding, if secured, toward rehabilitating the Residences of Old Town Hall building into offices and shelter space for that initiative. We’re glad to know any such plans aren’t as “impending” as we were under the impression they were Sunday, Sept. 10. We’re looking forward to continuing to follow the process and informing our neighbors on the latest developments in this process. In keeping with our mission, the ENA board is also anticipating hearing from Eastside residents about how those plans affect their health, safety, and wellbeing. We’ll do our due diligence to address their concerns and share residents’ thoughts with city and county representatives as the process unfolds.”

Matthew Romanauski, the President of the Eastside Neighborhood Association

The Eastside Neighborhood Association will be holding a meeting Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the Boys & Girls Club in Rochester. Olmsted County representative will also be there. It is open to the public.