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Mayor Norton, local leaders address Rochester’s homelessness problem

ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX 47) – While homelessness remains a complex reality for Rochester, local officials say the key to ending it is having the right people at the table.

A coalition of non-profits, government agencies and homeless people themselves are working on long-term solutions. But, time is not on their side as they fight the calendar ahead of what could be yet another brutal winter.

“Rochester is not in crisis mode, it’s got a problem,” said Tim Marx, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of St. Paul & Minneapolis. The mission of Catholic Charities is to serve those most in need and to advocate for justice in the community, according to the organization’s website.

Marx, who has worked to address homelessness in much bigger cities, says it can be managed.

“The challenge is doing it now with speed, scale, and intensity, particularly with winter not too far off,” he said.

Meanwhile, the city council is considering closing skyways at night after a rise in concerning behavior.

“If you close down an option you have to open up a new one,” Marx said. A possible new option is the Silver Lake Fire Station. But it comes with a host of challenges: Including finding volunteers to staff it and funding to get the building up to code.

“We are open to other alternatives and continue to look for those,” Mayor Norton said. “But this is again an emergency short term solution.”

Sheila Kiscaden, the Olmsted County Commissioner, is part of the coalition coming up with solutions to end and prevent homelessness. “We have a responsibility to provide housing with services for those who cannot get to the place that they can be totally independent. But, for many other people with just a little bit of support and a little bit of redirection, they will be able to get into an independent situation,” Kiscaden said.

One idea is to use available housing. “Making low and no barrier housing available, working with renters to see if we can’t help them keep people longer and not evict them,” Mayor Norton said.

Rochester’s estimated homeless population has remained relatively consistent in the last five years with a count between 400 to 500 people.

Despite the evident challenges the coalition has an optimistic outlook on the situation.

RELATED: Community provides solutions as Minnesota homeless population grows

Linda Ha

Reporter | @LindaHaTV |

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