Warming center left $20K bill

May 9, 2019

Rochester, Olmsted County and Mayo Clinic are splitting a $20,400 bill for keeping a warming center open for three weeks in March.

The costs cover building usage, staffing, security and cleaning related to the extended operations that started March 8 at the Salvation Army’s warming center at 20 First Ave. NE.

“It costs a lot to take care of people,” Rochester Mayor Kim Norton said, noting the bill was a tad higher than she expected.

Prior to extending operations at the county’s request, the Salvation Army opened the center on nights when temperatures were forecast to drop below zero.

During the extended opening the center saw as many as 50 to 60 homeless residents a night, which reportedly overwhelmed the space.

“You need a facility that is specifically for that use,” said Rebecca Snapp, the Salvation Army’s director of community engagement.

She said the Salvation Army space was designed to cater to 30 people or less.

Showing the limits of the space, the warming center closed earlier than expected for the month, due to security concerns, according to Maj. Lisa Mueller. She said when safety became a concern for volunteers and those being sheltered, the facility closed March 30 and 31 before ending the season.

As a result, Snapp said Salvation Army looks forward to upcoming conversations regarding the local response to warming center needs next winter and beyond.

“We cannot be the only ones to do this,” she said, noting the current model is not sustainable.

City and county officials agree and have cited a need for multiple partners to participate in future efforts to provide shelter during the year’s coldest months.

Dave Dunn, the county’s housing director, said the latest goal is to provide a five-month warming center in the winter.

Norton said local groups and individuals continue to meet and develop the directions for next steps.

“We’re looking far and wide to make sure we set short- and long-term goals,” she said.