ST PAUL, Minn. — The Ramsey County Board voted 7-0 to table a vote to move forward on a controversial plan to lease Bethesda Hospital as a shelter for the county's homeless population until next week.
Commissioners made clear in their comments during Tuesday's meeting that the vote was not to scuttle the plan to locate a 100-bed facility for the homeless near the State Capitol, just a delay to more clearly develop that plan.
City manager Ryan O'Connor and board members acknowledged they have received numerous inquiries and comments from city residents and interested parties. Among those asking questions are residents of the Frogtown neighborhood, who have expressed concern about an influx of people, crime and security issues.
Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo made clear that tabling the matter for a week does not mean the project is shelved. "This conversation isn't over... we need to do better," MatasCastillo insisted. She told fellow board members that the residents of the proposed shelter at Bethesda aren't hardened criminals, but "they are people who are in a crisis."
"The safest place of people is in a neighborhood," she said, saying by bringing homeless residents inside instead of having them on the street the neighborhood will actually become safer.
MatasCastillo also added that the county needs 400 beds to stabilize and protect the homeless population, and that the Bethesda project is "100, just a start."
Before next week's vote, O'Connor said those working on the project will continue to develop a timeline for providing services onsite to the homeless, streamline lease and contract language with M Health Fairview, and come up with a fully developed community engagement plan and timeline to address key stakeholders, including Frogtown residents.
As the meeting wound up Board Chair Toni Carter thanked all residents for their engagement on the issue.
For more information on the proposed lease of Bethesda Hospital for use as a homeless shelter, check out the Ramsey County website.