ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – A newly renovated daytime homeless shelter in St. Paul, Minnesota, claims in court that the city is imposing unfair restrictions that would cut off most people it serves and force it to shut down.
Listening House of St. Paul Inc. sued the city in Ramsey County District Court on Monday. The complaint, filed by lead attorney Eric Galatz of Stinson Leonard, was not made available by the court until Tuesday.
Listening House claims it will have to turn away most people it serves after St. Paul enacted Resolution 18-145, which imposes new restrictions on the shelter based on complaints from area residents.
From 1983 until 2017, Listening House was located in downtown St. Paul and served as an emergency overnight shelter that has recently been replaced by the Higher Ground St. Paul Shelter, according to the complaint.
Listening House says it now functions as a place for people experiencing homelessness to go during the day so they can avoid harsh weather conditions and have a hot drink and food.
In early 2016, Listening House started looking for a new location after it received notice that it would be displaced from its Ninth Street location by Dorothy Day Place, a larger facility for the homeless.
It claims that a review conducted by St. Paul officials determined that Listening House is a “day drop in center” that would only be allowed to service a maximum of 150 people.
By September 2016, First Lutheran Church offered Listening House a permanent spot in its basement located in the Swede Hollow neighborhood of St. Paul’s Dayton’s Bluff district, the complaint states.
The shelter won city approval after applying for a “determination of similar use” and, based on its understanding that the zoning administrative gave notice of the approval to the city council, Listening House claims it spent more than $250,000 on property improvements.
According to the complaint, however, neighborhood residents voiced concern about the daytime homeless shelter after nearly all the construction work was completed.
“Some were set against Listening House ever opening,” the complaint states. “Those who were set against Listening House before it opened started a campaign of complaints immediately after Listening House opened, which campaign included taking harassing photographs of Listening House guests, and incessant calls to the police and demands on [a] City Council member.”
Listening House and First Lutheran Church were told in July 2017 that St. Paul would hear appeals of its zoning approval, according to the lawsuit. However, the shelter argues that a city ordinance requires an appeal to brought within 10 days after the decision, which was March 20.
The homeless center says the city’s planning staff gave a set of “alternative conditions” to allow Listening House to continue serving guests at First Lutheran Church, but it claims the proposed conditions would “severely curtail its operations.”
“For example, although Listening House historically assisted more than 200 guests per day at its original downtown location, and has been assisting as many as 120 guests per day, and up to its fire code limit of approximately 110 guests at any given time during the day, the resolution imposes a limit of only 20 guests per day, effective April 2, 2018,” the lawsuit states. “When a planning commissioner asked city planning staff to explain the reasoning behind 20 guests per day limit, the city planner reported the limit was ‘arbitrary.'”
The city’s resolution also requires Listening House staff to be on site two hours before opening and two hours after closing to “ensure” that its guests leave the neighborhood, according to the complaint, and requires the shelter to “give notice on a shared Google site of serious incidents observed that involve their guests.”
Listening House claims the city’s new restrictions were the result of a flawed process and will effectively force it to close its doors.
“The arbitrary limitation of 20 guests per day dramatically curtails the services Listening House can provide to a homeless population of far more than 20 people, who really need the services,” the lawsuit states. “Further, at that minimal level of operation, it would be difficult to maintain funding, as donors rightly would be concerned of the significant reduction in the effectiveness of Listening House under this artificial restriction.”
The complaint continues, “Ironically, the city imposed the 20 person per day limit because of expressed concerns by certain neighbors that having Listening House operating at the church would result in too many homeless people out on the streets in the neighborhood. The restriction, however, will force Listening House guests to stay outside in the neighborhood rather than being in the church attended to by the Listening House staff.”
The shelter is seeking a permanent injunction to prevent the city from enforcing its resolution.
Listening House’s attorney, Galatz, said via email that the resolution “does not just imply that Listening House has the authority to tell people where they can and cannot be,” but also “expressly requires Listening House to ‘ensure that guests have left the area.'”
St. Paul did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning.