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'They use my skyway as a toilet': St. Paul mulls changes amid complaints

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St. Paul landlord Jaunae Brooks has been illegally locking her skyway door.
St. Paul landlord Jaunae Brooks has been illegally locking her skyway door at 8 p.m. to keep people from sleeping in the skyway and causing trouble in her building.
Max Nesterak | MPR News

The St. Paul City Council is again considering complaints of people sleeping and loitering in the skyways. On Wednesday night, they're holding a public hearing for a building owner who wants a waiver to close the skyway in one of her buildings at 8 p.m instead of 2 a.m. 

Jaunae Brooks has been illegally locking the doors to her Sixth Street building since March. She says it's necessary to keeping her building safe and clean. 

"It's a disaster. They use my skyway as a toilet, a place to do drugs, have sex, cook, sleep, eat ... just vandalize," Brooks said. "There's not any businesses open in the skyway. There's no restaurants or bars in the skyway. Who's out here in the skyways? It's not safe for anybody to be out here after 8 p.m." 

The city will likely deny that request as they have with others (Officials actually voted to deny Brooks's request two weeks ago before realizing they needed to give more notice for public hearings).  

It comes as the city is reviewing its skyway ordinances and code of conduct, which haven't been revised since 1991. The council wants to have new ordinances for the skyway in place by August, which could include an earlier closing time of midnight and stricter security requirements for landlords. 

Right now, building owners aren't required to lock their skyway doors at 2 a.m.; they're only required to keep them open until 2 a.m.  

They may also require building owner to have some form of security patrol. Right now, landlords must either have video surveillance or foot-patrol. 

In doing so, city leaders are trying to juggle making St. Paul "vibrant" while addressing complaints of its residents and businesses.

"We're not a 9-to-5 downtown anymore. There's burgeoning entertainment at night, so we're starting to deal with big city kinds of problems," says St. Paul Council Member Rebecca Noecker.

Downtown falls in her ward and she co-chairs the Skyway Vitality Work Group with the deputy mayor. Their mission is to bring all the skyway stakeholders together in order to create better skyway policy.

The other side to the story is why people are sleeping in the skyways in the first place instead of going to a shelter.

"Too much property so they can't bring it into a shelter. Pets, which are often not allowed. And partners. All shelters are one gender to a sleeping area," Noecker said. 

The St. Paul Foundation and Catholic Charities, along with a number of other organizations, will be conducting a survey of people sleeping in the skyways at the end of this month to find out why they can't go to a shelter. Then, they hope to create programs to overcome whatever those barriers may be. 

"We need a better place for people who can't access the shelters that we have. The skyway cannot be that place and the transit system cannot be that place," Noecker said. "It's just simply inhumane to expect that that's where someone should have to be when they can't be in one of the shelters we have right now."