October 10, 2018 06:59 PM
As the weather grows colder, a plan to provide shelter for the homeless in Dakota County is expanding.
Several churches throughout the county opened their doors as temporary shelters last winter. Now the West St. Paul City Council is changing zoning code to accommodate such temporary facilities.
In January, the fellowship hall at Augustana Lutheran Church will be lined with mattresses.
“They’re laid out on the floor, and then they set up barriers to segregate men and women,” Pastor Mark Aune said.
Below is an in-depth look at homelessness in Dakota County. The statistics are from Wilder Research's 2015 Minnesota Homeless Study.
This is the second year the church has worked with the Minneapolis-based nonprofit Matrix to provide shelter in West St Paul.
“Some of them would get up in the morning and go to work," Aune said. "They would get on the bus in the morning and go to jobs and when their jobs were over with they'd come back here at night."
Others had mental health issues, past problems that prevented stable housing or chose to be homeless, he said.
From November through April, Matrix sets up shelters at churches county-wide. Each church acts as a host for two-to-four weeks.
The nonprofit reached out to Augustana Lutheran Church last year. The city approved the arrangement, but it’s been a topic of discussion ever since.
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“Churches came to us and said we'd like to do this do you have any issues? And we didn't have anything on the books at all,” West St. Paul City Manager Ryan Schroeder said.
St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church also opened its doors as part of the Matrix program last year. Pastor John Snider said they hosted a temporary shelter for a total of four weeks with enthusiasm from the congregation.
Schroeder said over the past year they city has ironed out some regulations.
“We have to give some thought to are there neighborhood impacts? Are there safety impacts? So we've kind of gone through that conversation,” he said.
On Monday, the City Council approved regulations regarding where these temporary shelters can be set up, fire and building inspection requirements and limits on how many people can be there.
Schroeder said the goal is to keep both the public and people staying at the shelters safe.
“According to our police department, homelessness is on the rise,” Council Member Anthony Fernandez said. “We have to get ahead of it, instead of dealing with a very large issue down the road.”
Fernandez said they will continue to adjust and adapt the zoning as they see how the temporary shelter program works in the city.
“Absolutely there's work to be done, and that's going to really take critical thinking and speaking with the county and pooling more resources,” he said.
Matrix served 229 people throughout the county last year. The nonprofit started the program in November 2017 after being chosen by Dakota County through an RFP process.
The group is still looking for churches to help this winter. Anyone interested should call 612-915-0202 or visit their website.
Updated: October 10, 2018 06:59 PM
Created: October 10, 2018 06:25 PM
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