Rochester Community Warming Center

Mary Alessio, center right, director of advancement with Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota, speaks as representatives with Mayo Clinic, Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota, the city of Rochester and Olmsted County look on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, during an event to showcase the progress of the Rochester Community Warming Center in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

The Rochester Community Warming Center is slated to open by Dec. 15, with plans to offer nightly shelter for up to 30 homeless residents.

“We went from nothing last year to 60 mph now,” Olmsted County Board Chairman Jim Bier said of the 10-month effort to create a nightly warming center at 200 Fourth St. SE.

Rochester Kim Norton said collaboration was key to the project.

“We said from the beginning that it is a community problem and it is going to take creating a community solution,” she said as the space was introduced Tuesday.

Here are a few things to know as plans emerge:

1. Center operations are funded in a three-way split.

With an estimated cost of $180,000 for staffing and operations, Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota has signed on to run the operation.

The bill is being covered by Olmsted County, the city of Rochester and local business entities led by the Rochester Chamber of Commerce and Mayo Clinic, which provided $75,000 for the initial project, including renovations.

2. The cost of renovations could top $175,000.

While final numbers are not available, Olmsted County Director of Facilities Mat Miller said the construction contract for renovations of the county-owned space was $172,171 and approximately $10,000 in added revisions have been requested.

The county, city and business entities are aligned for a three-way split on the renovations, which were required to meet building codes and ensure the center is safe to occupy overnight.

3. The facility will be operated by four full-time employees.

Catholic Charities has hired Tricia Kramer of St. Charles to serve as the warming center coordinator.

Kramer has, in turn, hired three night-shift managers to ensure a staff member will be on site when the center is in operation, which is from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. nightly.

4. Volunteers are being sought.

The plan calls for at least two volunteers to be on site during operations, as well.

Tom Parlin, program manager for Catholic Charities’ local Parish Social Ministry, said the goal is to find approximately 200 volunteers, which would match the number at the organization’s Winona warming center last year.

Kramer said she plans to reach out to potential community partners to organize some volunteer crews, but is also looking for groups and individuals to contact her.

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Kramer at 507-287-2047 or by email at TKramer@ccsomn.org.

5. Doors will be locked at 10 p.m.

Parlin said the warming center will be open for arrivals between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m., at which point the doors will be locked from the inside.

“People will only be allowed after hours if they are referred to us by law enforcement,” he said. “Guests are not allowed to go back and forth after the doors are locked for the night, even to have a smoke.”

He said the measure is intended to protect the safety of people staying at the center, as well as volunteers and staff.

Anyone staying at the center will be able to leave at any point, but will not be allowed to return in the same night.

6. Opening the center will spur changes in the skyways.

The Rochester City Council recently enacted an ordinance to close the city’s skyways from midnight to 5:30 a.m. each night.

Enforcement of the plan was put on hold until the city had an alternative location to send people staying in the skyways for warmth.

While people will be allowed to use the skyways to move between hotels, parking ramps and other connected locations, Norton said Rochester police officers will direct people to the warming center if they are found in the skyway seeking shelter at night.

“This isn’t about being punitive,” she said. “It’s about being helpful.”

Trent Fluegel, Olmsted County’s housing resource coordinator, said the warming center staff will have direct contact with the county and other service agencies to help guide people to potential housing opportunities.

“It’s really the starting point for people who are unsheltered to move into housing,” he said of the center.

7. Beds were donated.

The 30 warming center beds were donated by St. Catherine University in St. Paul, also known as St. Kate’s.

“They reached out to Mayor (Kim) Norton in July looking for a new home for them, and Olmsted County went up there to pick them up,” Miller said.

He added that Catholic Charities will be providing a few items for the center, and the county has purchased cabinets and appliances, which include two washers and dryers.

8. Overflow questions remain.

Olmsted County Housing Director Dave Dunn said the 30 warming center beds can be expanded to 40 if the need arises.

He said there is an alternate location for any overflow if the center reaches its capacity.

“We’re working on some details for that,” he said.

9. The plan is to operate the center for at least two years.

Olmsted County purchased the Fourth Street strip mall last year, with plans to use the site for expansion of the city-county Government Center.

Any additional construction is not planned for at least two years, which makes the site available to operate from November through March each year until it’s sought for other purposes.

In the meantime, the city, county and other groups are working with consultants from the Corporation on Supportive Housing to develop a long-term plan to address the need for services for people struggling with homelessness in the community.

10. Fundraising is underway.

While much of the funding for the first season of operations is being provided by Olmsted County, the city of Rochester and local businesses, Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota has initiated a fundraising effort to fill gaps and fund future operations.

The organization is accepting donations on its website at www.ccsomn.org/donate-to-the-rochester-community-warming-center, and Mayo Clinic has agreed to match donations to the Rochester Community Warming Center dollar for dollar up to a total of $25,000.

Additionally, shoppers of the People’s Food Co-op, 519 First Ave. SW, will be able to round up their purchases this month, with all round-up monies being donated directly to the warming center.

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