Will GOP convention displace St. Paul's homeless?by Marisa Helms, Minnesota Public Radio
As planning begins for the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, security is a top concern. The area around the Xcel Energy Center is downtown St. Paul will get a thorough look over the next year and a half. And one group of downtown residents who live at a homeless shelter are wondering what effect tightened security will have on them.
St. Paul, Minn. — On four days in September 2008, several thousand delegates and another 15,000 media representatives are expected to attend the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. A security perimeter with checkpoints will surround the Xcel Center. Only those pre-approved by the Secret Service will be allowed inside.
But right across the street from the arena, there are hundreds of people who spend their days and nights in a single-story, red brick building called the Dorothy Day Center. On the inside, it's like a gymnasium -- a huge open room with doors around the edges leading to showers, health services, counselors.
Each day some 400 people a day come through the shelter's doors for meals, and 200 of them spend the night on plastic mats.
Wayne Jackson, Alison Franck, and James Fletcher are talking about the security perimeter and rumors that come 2008, the place they call home will close down.
"They do not want this place to close, absolutely they do not," says Jackson.
"A lot of them are scared. And I don't blame 'em," adds Franck.
Jackson and Franck say there's been talk that the shelter could close anywhere from a few days to forever.
Fletcher says he believes concerns about the shelter are based on a misperception that equates homeless people with criminals.
"That's the whole idea is to make sure that none of us go over there, to harass the people or to panhandle, or anything like that," says Fletcher. "That's what they're more worried about, us going over there and pandhandling or harassing the people cause it makes them look bad."
Uncertainty is likely to continue about convention security and the fate of Dorothy Day. The Secret Service won't determine the security perimeter until just a couple of months before the convention starts.
Erin Dady, the city of St. Paul's point person on convention details, confirms there is a possibility the Dorothy Day Center could end up inside the security perimeter, and that could mean people would have to move.
"If their services must be relocated for a couple of days because of the security perimeter, we'll work closely with them to make reasonable accommodations so that they can continue to provide their very important services to our community," says Dady.
Dady adds the city's preference is to have the Dorothy Day Center fully operational throughout the convention. Still, she says, any business near the convention center should prepare for either scenario.
Limitations on the way business is done in the city will be determined by whether one is inside or outside the security perimeter.
"My hope is that we can continue to operate. For many people who live there, it is really their home," says Patty Wilder, the chief operating officer for programs at Catholic Charities, which owns and operates the Dorothy Day Center.
"People are dependent on us for both food and shelter," Wilder says. "How we would move that is an overwhelming thought at present. So that would take an awful lot more preparation, to really be able to address that in any kind of realistic way."
Wilder commends the city and business community for helping to build the center 25 years ago, and for supporting its location in the heart of downtown. She says rather than closing the center during the convention, she would like to see the it as an occasion for the city to show the media and delegates that it does not hide people who are in need.
"Politicians can look out from a convention site and be aware of the fact that partially, their work as politicians, as delegates, is to embrace public policy that serves everyone," Wilder says. "So, I see it as an opportunity as well as something that we potentially need to address to make sure our people are safe."
Wilder says Catholic Charities is setting up a meeting with city and police officials to discuss the security perimeter and possible options.
But authority to determine how large or limited the perimeter is, or whether the Dorothy Day center is inside it or not, lies exclusively with the Secret Service.
- Morning Edition, 02/15/2007, 7:20 a.m.