Catholic Charities: $40 million raised to meet St. Paul homeless needs

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The $100 million effort to build a new campus for homeless services in downtown St. Paul has hit a key milestone, Catholic Charities says.

The charity says it now has $40 million in private pledges in hand, thanks to a campaign led by Ecolab CEO Doug Baker, U.S. Bank President Andy Cecere and HealthPartners CEO Mary Brainerd. More than 400 people contributed, including a $5 million gift from the charitable foundation set up by the family of Best Buy founder Richard Schulze.

Catholic Charities CEO Tim Marx called it a landmark.

"They saw the need," Marx said of the donors. "They see people on the streets. They saw the pictures of what was occurring at the Dorothy Day Center. And they saw themselves there, somebody they might have known or somebody they might have loved, and 'Oh, but for the grace of God that could be me or somebody that I loved,' and they know it was wrong."

The private campaign shows that the business community wants to see the project completed, said Baker.

"Hopefully, the fact that we were able to raise $40 million privately sends a clear signal that this is a widely supported community effort to help those who are most in need," he added.

Dorothy Day had opened in 1981 as a day-only center, but had hundreds of people sleeping on foam mats on the floor for years. Starting in 2011, however, dozens more people had been spilling out into the neighboring streets, sleeping on tarps and tents in park areas and boulevards around Dorothy Day, some even in winter.

Initial donations and more than $25 million in public funding were enough to build part of a new complex, a 473-bed shelter between Interstate 35E and Xcel Energy Center. Higher Ground St. Paul, built on the block next to Catholic Charities Dorothy Day Center, open in January. That let Catholic Charities move its clients from foam mats on the floor at Dorothy Day.

The plan calls for a second phase, to provide counseling, job search assistance, health care and other services. The six-story, 50,000 square foot building would replace the existing Dorothy Day center and add another 177 housing units.

Catholic Charities says that with the private money in hand, it still needs $12 million in state general obligation bonds and as much as $15 million in state housing bonds. Marx says they're hoping to start the construction project this summer, to keep costs down and bring the planned social services provided in the new building as soon as possible. The new facility is scheduled to open in 2019.