Let's give Rochester Mayor Kim Norton her due. During her eight months in office, she has taken on a more activist role than her predecessors, and has found ways within the city's weak-mayor system to influence the agenda.
The most visible example is the city council's vote to approve a five-month warming center at the former Silver Lake fire station. The council last week voted 4-2 to spend about $457,000 to renovate the ground floor of the station. It is expected that the station will be able to house up to 60 people each night.
While an operating plan for the center still needs to be drawn up, getting the council's favorable vote is a major step on Norton's months-long effort to find a safe place for homeless people to stay during winter. This is an issue on which she has been front and center from the start, and she is to be commended for her leadership.
Critics say the Silver Lake location is too far from downtown and the building is not ideally suited as a shelter.
"I think people know it's not ideal," Norton told the council. However, in the absence of other firm proposals, and with the the timeline to renovate the building getting tight, the community can't wait for the perfect option to appear.
Citizens and business owners have expressed concern about safety and health issues with homeless people sleeping on downtown skyways. Norton has taken those concerns and translated them to action.
"It's a community issue, and we all need to come to the table to solve this," she said.
There will be that opportunity, as the Silver Lake site is developed, for private-public partnerships.
At the city council there was some disagreement over how to pay for the Silver Lake project, but ultimately the council decided to use federal grant funds for the project. Again, that might not be the ideal solution, but with the need so obvious and with time running out, it doesn't make sense to wait for the perfect plan and funding mechanism to arrive fully formed.
Norton's persistence on this issue makes us hopeful that, when the cold weather arrives later this year, the city will have a dignified, practical option for homeless people to find shelter.