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Warming center options start to emerge

May 24, 2019

The path to a potential warming center remained unclear Tuesday, even if the purpose for the center was clearly expressed.

“When it gets real cold out, we don’t want people outside,” Olmsted County Board Chairman Jim Bier said. “I think everyone agrees with that.”

However, commissioners seemed to find little consensus beyond that point as they discussed possible steps to create a five-month warming center, which would offer nightly shelter November through March.

Meeting at the county’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority board, the commissioners acknowledged more discussion is needed.

“It’s a whole community problem, and we don’t have an easy answer to it,” board member Ken Brown said.

HRA Director Dave Dunn said some potential options are starting to emerge and county and city officials continue to meet with local business leaders and Mayo Clinic representatives.

He said creating a new warming center will require three things: a location, a service provider and funding.

Since the Salvation Army has determined its facility to inadequate to meet the demands for sheltering a growing homeless community, the city and county have been considering other potential locations.

One such location is the Silver Lake Station, a former fire station that has been eyed for various uses in recent years.

“That is by no stretch of the imagination a done deal,” Dunn said, noting renovations could cost $200,000 to $600,000 based on previous estimates.

Rochester Mayor Kim Norton has supported looking into the option, noting it has potential to be used for a variety of activities in the summer and serving as a warming shelter in the winter.

She said study of potential costs continues.

Dunn said other locations also remain under consideration.

Beyond locations, Dunn said a potential facility operator has also emerged as part of ongoing discussions.

Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota has stepped forward with a willingness to operate a local warming center.

“There’s no formal agreement or anything like that,” Dunn said.

However, he said finding a group to oversee efforts is needed to get a potential center ready before cold weather returns.

“The sooner we can get that provider, the better, because they can figure all this out as it becomes their No. 1 priority,” he said.

One of those priorities would be fundraising.

With an estimated $200,000 to $250,000 operating cost for five months, Dunn said community support will be needed.

“This is just for the awareness of the community,” he said while discussing the potential cost. “This isn’t saying anyone is going to cover all that.”

Commissioners, however, indicated they aren’t ready to commit to the proposed project without more details, with some saying they’d prefer a center opened only on the coldest nights and others questioning potential costs.

“We need to do a deeper dive into how we are going to solve this,” Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden said, indicating she favored creating a nightly warming center for five months of the year.

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