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Rochester City Council supports using Silver Lake station as warming shelter

Rochester City Council supports using Silver Lake station as warming shelter

The old fire station at Silver Lake Park would serve as an emergency warming shelter under a proposal that won conditional approval from the Rochester City Council on Monday.

By a 4-2 vote, the council voted to fund the Silver Lake site for one year using Community Development Block Grants (CBDG). The motion is contingent on the emergence of an operating model for the shelter.

Image via Google Earth

‘We have got to start’

Despite winning approval, the response to the Silver Lake site was lukewarm given its bleak prospects as a long-term fix. But council members generally agreed that given the situation, the city needed to act — and fast.

Earlier this year, the local Salvation Army, which had been operating an emergency warming shelter, said it could no longer take on the responsibility alone. That message prompted action on the part of the city, which began to evaluate properties it already owns as potential shelters.

“I understand this isn’t a great place, but we have got to start [acting],” said Council Member Mark Bilderback. “I mean, it’s August. It won’t be long and we’ll have some pretty chill nights out there.” 

While the council was ultimately supportive of putting up the capital costs to improve the city-owned building, members did express a desire to have the county and/or another community partner take over operations.

Partners needed

Rochester Mayor Kim Norton, who began organizing around the issue of homelessness upon taking office earlier this year, believes other partners will come to the table. If needed, the mayor said she would be willing to make the phone calls to ask for support from members of the community.

“This is a community issue … we all need to come to the table to solve this,” said Norton.

Initial estimates show that renovations to the building could cost upwards of $457,000. Council Member Nick Campion, who supported the motion Monday, said he would not be inclined to authorize any additional city funding for operations. That responsibility could fall on Olmsted County, which manages the Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

Not everyone on board

Council Member Shaun Palmer voted against the Silver Lake proposal, stating he believes the issue of homelessness should be left entirely to the county. The Ward 5 council member also cited concerns about adding the shelter there without a master plan in place for the future of the park.

“This is a crock,” said Palmer. He added, “I don’t see how you are going to come to the citizens of Rochester and say, ‘we have $457,198 to spend on this and it’s going to be used for five months as a temporary solution.’"

Council President Randy Staver also voted no, though he indicated he would have supported a one-year request if not for the use of CBDG funds. He suggested using funds from the council’s contingency account, noting he did not want to limit the future of use of the community grant program.

Winter is the goal

The designation of the Silver Lake station as a shelter comes as the city considers ideas for addressing the increased presence of homeless individuals in the city’s skyway system. Some council members have suggested not moving forward with a proposal to restrict skyway use at night until a plan is in place for providing consistent shelter.

According to the city, about 60 people would be able to use the Silver Lake shelter at one time. The goal is to have the site operational by winter.

As part of the motion passed Monday, the council will revisit the topic in the spring to evaluate how the building functioned over the winter.

Sean Baker is a Rochester journalist and the founder of Med City Beat.

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