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St. Paul City Council to discuss new zoning regulations for homeless encampments Wednesday

The city council will discuss zoning requirements that could lead to more homeless shelters. Meanwhile, the city is dealing with a lawsuit over an existing shelter.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Business owners are suing the City of St. Paul over a temporary day shelter for people experiencing homelessness.

The Freedom House on West 7th Street was created in November of 2020 on an emergency basis to provide shelter for the city’s homeless population at a time when Minnesota was experiencing extremely cold temperatures and a high rate of COVID-19.

The St. Paul City Council temporarily changed zoning regulations to allow the Listening House, a group that manages homeless shelters in St. Paul, to move their day services into the old fire station on West 7th Street on a temporary basis.

Pioneer Press writer Frederick Melo has been following the situation closely.

“The property owners are pointing to everything you can possibly imagine, from public nudity, to assaults, to slashed tires, to defecation. There’s been quite a lot that the business owners have had to put up with,” Melo says.

A half dozen business owners are now working together on a lawsuit against the city.

“They’re suing on multiple grounds. They’re saying this is a nuisance. They’re saying there’s been a violation of zoning regulations. They’re saying, 'Look, you just can’t have an emergency shelter when there officially is no emergency,'” Melo says.

“The property owners who are suing are saying that people are lingering after hours. They are outside overnight, and this was never permitted as an overnight shelter.”

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Melo says on a typical day the shelter might bring in more than 100 people, which he says speaks to the greater issue of people experiencing homelessness in the city.

“The question of where do you place these services always becomes contentious,” Melo says.

“We’ve talked to several people who go to Freedom House and they have said that because of this place they have a shower. They can actually apply for work. They can get some rest, which is really tough when you’re homeless and you don’t have a safe place to sleep at night,” Melo says.

On Wednesday afternoon, the St. Paul City Council will discuss new requirements and zoning regulations to allow for additional homeless shelters in the city.

Melo is expecting a vote Wednesday afternoon that could possibly open the door for more shelters in the coming years.

Meanwhile, the city is dealing with this current lawsuit that aims to close down a temporary shelter that is already open in the city.

“It reminds me of a meme someone put up on social media of a small child going down the bus aisle and every student on the bus would kind of move in his way so he couldn’t sit down. Well, that is kind of the feeling, that no matter where you go, you’re going to get pushback. It doesn’t solve the need to push it down the street.”

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