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Homelessness continues to cause concerns as Rochester city leaders search for fix

City leaders seek solution as business owners show concern about homeless people in skyways.

Posted: Apr 8, 2019 10:59 PM
Updated: Apr 9, 2019 6:46 AM

ROCHESTER, Minn. - Homelessness continues to be a problem in our communities.

To get out of the elements, homeless people in Rochester are finding shelter in the skyways. Some business owners aren't happy about it.

Svaar Vinje owns Knight's Chamber Rochester, a business in Shops at University Square which is connected to the city's skyway system.

He's received complaints about homeless people in the skyways, so he brought it up to the city.

"The downtown businesses are concerned about providing proper safety and a general atmosphere where clients and visitors feel welcome," Vinje said.

Those with the city say skyways are like sidewalks and viewed as public property.

"It's not illegal to be homeless and it's certainly not illegal to walk on sidewalks or sit on sidewalks," Rochester Mayor Kim Norton said. "As long as you're not blocking someone's way."

Terry Tiffany is homeless in Rochester and said for some, it's the only place to go.

"When it's 100 degrees you need to be cool, you need water, you need air conditioning," Tiffany said, "and when it's freezing, the homeless shelters are never open."

This past winter showed city leaders just how much homelessness is a problem in the city, with a growing number of people using quick fixes such as the Salvation Army and Dorothy Day House.

"Now that the nicer weather is coming, I think we won't see quite as many downtown - they're still there," Norton said. "They're still under bridges, they're still in our parks, they're still trying to find other places to live and it's not in what most of us would consider an appropriate place to sleep."

For Vinje, it's the issues that come with homelessness such as addiction, mental illness, and crime that cause the problems.

"Anything that's illegal you should call the police, you should notify the people, security that take care of the problem," Vinje said. "Those are things that should immediately be dealt with."

Norton thinks it's a much bigger issue that needs more of a long-term solution.

"We need to find that housing option for them so they can gain the support they need if they have a chemical dependency or a mental illness," Norton said. "We need to provide those services and we can't provide them when we don't know where they are."

Norton tells KIMT the next step for the city is to maybe hire someone to facilitate and manage a program, as well as continue working with non-profit organizations.

Since beginning her term as mayor, Norton has addressed homelessness by creating a task force and starting public discussions.

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