ROCHESTER - Olmsted County plans to transform a longtime low-income apartment building into Rochester's newest homeless shelter.
County officials are buying the Residences of Old Town Hall a couple blocks east of downtown to create a $12.7 million Housing Stability Center, which will consolidate the county's homeless outreach efforts and provide up to 80 people overnight shelter once it's renovated.
"Our goal is to keep people housed and stable," said Dave Dunn, Olmsted County's housing director, at a news conference Tuesday.
Residences of Old Town Hall is owned by local financial broker Jeff Allman, who said he wanted to ensure the homeless had a better place to stay in town as they seek help.
"They're already here, digging through our garbage and sleeping in our cemeteries," Allman said.
The Old Town Hall was built in the mid-1960s in Rochester's Eastside neighborhood. It has served as low-income housing and dorms for Luther College for years.
County officials plan to keep much of the building in place, including a commercial kitchen. The county will apply for a $10 million grant from state homeless shelter funding by the end of the year, then start construction in 2024 dependent on the grant. The back of the building, which faces train tracks and a nearby cemetery, will be renovated into a nighttime shelter space as well as offices for housing staff.
If all goes as planned, the shelter could be open in summer 2025.
Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota, which operates the Rochester Community Warming Center, is expected to run the county's new housing center. The warming center will shutter once the Housing Stability Center is running.
The county plans to keep the building's 66 units intact for now. Luther College has a contract to use 45 of the units through spring 2025, which the county intends to honor as it shouldn't overlap with the shelter. The remaining occupants will have homes for as long as they want.
"We are not in the business of creating homelessness," said Mary O'Neill, the county's housing stability program manager.
The shelter comes after months of talks between the city, county and local housing advocates. County officials say the area's homeless population is on the rise — about 174 homeless people were identified during a three-day count in July, up from about 150 about the same time last year.
Olmsted County typically estimates about 200 homeless adults and 400 homeless children live in the area.
Several local officials lauded the project — Olmsted County Board Chair Gregg Wright called it a necessary step to address the root problems of homelessness — but nearby neighbors have concerns.
Read more at the Star Tribune.