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New city ordinance closes Rochester skyways at midnight

It's estimated 20 to 40 people sleep in the skyways each night. The new ordinance will close the skyways from midnight to 5:30 a.m.

Posted: Nov 19, 2019 6:47 PM

ROCHESTER, Minn. - It's been a concern for more than a year, homeless people seeking shelter in the city's skyway system.

On Monday night, the city council approved a new ordinance that will close the skyways from midnight to 5:30 a.m.

While the new rule is causing concern for some, it's also creating an opportunity for police to connect people with services and resources.

It's estimated 20 to 40 people sleep in the skyways each night. Grantland Owens is one of them.

"My current situation is I'm living up in the skyway," Owens said. "So I kind of know what's going on up there."

A new survey done by the Corporation of Supportive Housing found there are 123 people in the community who are unsheltered.

"They say they're supposed to be making this a major city in the next 10 years," Owens said. "OK, how are you supposed to do that when you got people living up in the skyway?"

The city's new ordinance won't allow him or others to sleep up in the skyways overnight, but police say it's not an immediate eviction.

For the next few weeks, they will only enforce criminal activity before warming centers open. They'll also be connecting people with community resources. They're calling it 'compassionate enforcement.'

"This three-week push is really helpful to just let everyone know who's out there, and how can we remove barriers, and how do we get people in to supported housing or whatever their needs are and meet those needs," Police Capt. Jeff Stilwell said.

Stilwell hopes it will help, and Owens thinks it's a step in the right direction.

"I say it's a good start," Owens said, "but they should keep it going, keep pushing forward, just don't stop at that."

Police say no one will be kicked out of the skyway during closed hours if there's no warming center open or other place to go. Officers will also be handing out hand warmers on the really cold nights.

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