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The St. Paul City Council is poised to spend $1.4 million to help nonprofit Listening House open a homeless day shelter in a vacant restaurant east of downtown, at a point in the COVID-19 pandemic when much of the public aid for such facilities has dried up.

Acting as the city's Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA), the council will vote Wednesday on a resolution that would direct the money to Listening House as a forgivable loan to renovate the former Red's Savoy property at 421 E. 7th St. In a memo to council members, city staff suggested waiving a typical 45-day notice period "as it's important for the Listening House to make their services available in time for the cold winter months."

The money would come from a $28 million pot of unobligated tax increment financing dollars, which cities have special permission to spend on private development projects through 2025 thanks to a state law passed last year to spur economic recovery. Listening House would not have to pay back the $1.4 million as long as it continues operations at the location for at least 10 years.

Listening House bought the former restaurant late last month. It's the first time the organization has owned property since it started providing services in St. Paul in 1983, executive director Molly Jalma said.

"We need to stop being as transient as the people we serve," she said.

The money from the city would pay for new bathrooms, a kitchen, a computer area and space for other social service providers to meet with people using the shelter, Jalma said. In the future, once Listening House raises more money, the organization hopes to build a courtyard and an addition with space for beds, she added.

"We often say we're the living room for people experiencing homelessness, if you think about overnight shelters as a bedroom," Jalma said.

The nonprofit would eventually move out of First Lutheran Church in the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood, where it has been operating since 2017. At its new location, Listening House would be open on evenings and weekends, when other public spaces are more often closed.

Listening House has at times met backlash from neighbors, who said the shelter's guests have trespassed, openly used drugs, damaged property and threatened passersby. Such complaints were the subject of a lawsuit filed last year by business owners and residents of the W. 7th neighborhood, where the city gave Listening House access to a former fire station to operate a temporary day shelter — dubbed the Freedom House — during the pandemic.

A Ramsey County District Court judge sided partly with the plaintiffs, writing in a May order that the city failed to comply with state-mandated notice and hearing requirements when the temporary shelter opened. Listening House moved out of the Freedom House property in May, and city officials announced plans for it to revert back to a fire station.

City Council Member Rebecca Noecker, who is sponsoring the funding resolution and whose ward includes W. 7th and downtown, said the Freedom House shelter was a quickly devised and temporary plan to provide emergency shelter during the pandemic, when many public spaces closed to prevent the spread of the virus.

"Now that those spaces have reopened, we've also recognized that libraries and park buildings and other city facilities aren't the best spaces for people who are in need of specialized services," she said. "I think Listening House has been really thoughtful about finding the right location."

Jalma said she has started meeting with neighbors of the new site, which she describes as "a better fit" for people seeking services — relatively close to downtown, transit and overnight shelters, while also more removed from St. Paul's denser residential and entertainment districts. She said she expects the shelter could serve about 200 people a day.

"It will be a space that's a little bit more welcoming," Jalma said.