Homeless in the skyway (copy)

Two Rochester police officers wait last winter while people gathered their belongings and leave their skyway campsites one morning. The officers gave the six people there a list of options to go to for help and shelter. A proposed ordinance will ban sleeping in the skyways.

Sleeping in Rochester’s skyways could be banned by Dec. 1.

The Rochester City Council on Monday is slated to review proposed revisions to the city’s skyway ordinance. The new rules would limit hours for activity in the skyway and prohibit sitting and lying on the floor, stairs or ledges.

“What is proposed here is a mixture of what has worked in other cities,” Rochester City Attorney Jason Loos wrote in a report to the council.

St. Paul’s skyways are closed from midnight to 6 a.m., and the city prohibits lying in the skyway.

Duluth restricts sitting and lying in its skyways, and hours vary by the day of the week.

In Minneapolis, skyways hours are the most restrictive, according to Loos. They are closed from 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. during weekdays. Weekend skyway hours are limited to 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays.

The Rochester proposal appears to be close to the St.Paul rules.

While Rochester already has designated hours of operation in the skyways, the proposed change would close the skyways from midnight to 6 a.m. daily by ordinance. However, the change would not prohibit moving between the skyways to access parking ramps and hotels.

The restrictions on sitting and lying in the skyway would also have exceptions, including medical emergencies.

The proposed ordinance change also defines several other prohibited acts, including propping open locked doors, smoking and vaping, urinating and defecating, blocking pedestrians’ paths and causing damage.

If passed Monday, the ordinance changes could be put in place as early as next month, but Loos noted the restricted hours will not be enforced until the new Rochester warming center is open.

“The date it will be enforced will coordinate with the opening of the warming shelter,” he stated in his report to the council.

Mat Miller, Olmsted County’s director of facilities and building operations, said earlier this week that work to remodel the planned warming center at 200 Fourth St. SE is expected to be complete by Nov. 1.

At that point, Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota is expected to start preparations to open the doors in the county-owned building by Dec. 1. Once opened, the facility will provide spaces for up to 30 homeless individuals nightly, likely between the hours of 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., with operations continuing through the end of March.

Loos reported that police officers will be expected to ask people who are violating the skyway ordinance to leave. They will also provide them with information about the warming center or other services.

However, refusal to leave could end with an arrest or citation.

Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin said during a June discussion that the proposed ordinance is needed to address trends and aggressive behaviors in the skyways, which could lead to more problems.

“That unaddressed low-level disorder kind of signals lawlessness, and serious crime is more likely to occur in a lawless-perceived environment,” he said.

Additionally, Tim Marx, CEO of Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said allowing people to sleep in the skyways creates public-health and public-safety risks.

Speaking during a forum arranged by Rochester Mayor Kim Norton in July, he said finding an alternative was important for all in the community.

“We should not be having people spend the night in skyways or encampments, which are undignified situations,” he said.

The City Council is slated to vote on the proposed ordinance change during its 7 p.m. meeting Monday.

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