Politics and the homeless


An astounding number of people reacted with an odd question when told the Republican National Convention this year would be held at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.

What about the Dorothy Day Center?

In fact, the future of the homeless shelter was one of the first questions MPR News asked. And you have to ask, “why?” Nobody was asking about the motel on the corner of Kellogg and 7th.

Historically, the homeless and political conventions don’t mix, and the subtext of the question suggests Republicans would want to ignore the homeless and that act would be a metaphor for their political philosophy on the subject.

So listen to Rev. John Estrem, CEO of Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which runs the shelter. He talked this morning with MPR’s Cathy Wurzer:

“The city, the Secret Service, the police, the Republican convention committee itself… they were all very helpful. Of course everybody has an opinion, but nobody put any pressure on us at all.”


In fact, in one of the more underreported factoids surrounding the convention, the Republican organizers of the convention have been helping out at the homeless shelter.

So who is hiding the homeless this year? According to the Rocky Mountain News, it’s the Democrats, or at least the city hosting the Democrats. Denver is opening up shelters away from the convention site. Those shelters are usually only open in the winter. One group asked whether the $50 million on security in Denver might be better spent on finding homes and shelter for the homeless.

In its 2004 report, Illegal to be Homeless, the National Council on the Homeless said police sweeps in advance of the Republican Convention in New York targeted the homeless:

Many day labor sites, several near homeless shelters, have been targeted by the police. NYPD issued homeless day laborers waiting for work near the Bedford Atlantic Men’s shelter in Brooklyn 228 summonses in 28 days. Complaints from the community about crimes in the area, references to traffic hazards are invoked in order to justify hitting “preventively” on day laborers with charges such as trespassing (even though people live in the shelter), loitering, disorderly conduct and impeding pedestrian traffic.

St. Paul officials have been studying New York’s performance during the Republican convention in 2004, and have decided it’s an effective model for how not to host a political convention.

Rev. Estrem says Catholic Charities’ decision is based partly on the desire to make sure “the voices of the poor” are heard during the convention.

  • Alison

    Thanks for reminding us that neither side of our 2 sided system has the moral highground. It always struck me that it is difficult for a Christian to vote for either Democrat or Republican. Both sides have some pretty questionable moral positions and un-Christian actions to account for. Maybe that’s why so many of us often end up choosing what we believe are the lesser of two evils.

  • missi

    The linked article from the Rocky Mountain News didn’t specifically say it was the Democrats requesting that the homeless shelters be temporarily moved, so I think the wording in this article was a bit misleading.

  • Bob Collins

    The original wording was:

    ” According to the Rocky Mountain News, it’s the Democrats, or at least the city hosting the Democrats”

    That is accurate.

    I’m reminded of Mario Cuomo’s stirring speech to the Democratic convention in 1984:

    “Maybe, Mr. President, if you stopped in at a shelter in Chicago and spoke to the homeless there; maybe, Mr. President, if you asked a woman who had been denied the help she needed to feed her children because you said you needed the money for a tax break for a millionaire or for a missile we couldn’t afford to use.”

    The homeless are quite often a prop for politicians.

    When I get to Denver, I’ll be sure to find out why Denver has such a different view on things than St. Paul. In fact, it’ll be the first thing I do after I unpack.