The St. Paul City Council on Wednesday approved the distribution of about $3.3 million to a dozen organizations to help prevent homelessness.

The money, which came from the 2008 federal Housing and Economic Recovery Act, will be used to pay a portion of rent to help people stay in their homes or to get people who recently lost their housing out of a shelter and into a new place as fast as possible. It's one-time money that is expected to last for two years.

The money isn't intended to be used for long-term homeless people, said Joe Collins of the St. Paul Planning and Economic Development Department.

Instead, he said, the money will be aimed at helping people who are at risk of becoming homeless, including refugees and new immigrants, renters in foreclosed buildings and veterans.

"This sounds like a lot of money, but there is a lot of need," Collins said.

Cities and counties across the state have been seeing increases in homeless populations, and the bad economy has put more people teetering on the edge of losing their homes.

Catholic Charities, which runs a family shelter and the Dorothy Day Center, will get the largest portion, about $1.8 million. Money will be used to help pay portions of rent or security deposits, said Tracy Berglund, director of housing and emergency services for Catholic Charities.

"If you can get people into housing quickly, it's a better value, and it's better for children," she said.

Berglund said a recent Ramsey County experiment showed that it costs about $2,700 to keep a family in emergency shelter for a month, but it costs a third of that to help a family stay in their home by assisting with rent.

The Dorothy Day Center saw a 12 percent increase in people using the shelter at night over the past year, she said. In February, 49 families, including 134 children, were turned away from the shelter because there wasn't enough room.

Catholic Charities will also work with the YWCA St. Paul, which will get $617,00 to help families, and South Metro Human Services, which will get $137,000 to provide mental health counseling.

Ramsey County will use $229,000 to hire two workers to help distribute emergency funds and leverage money from other sources to go toward prevention and re-housing programs.

The county is able to get state money for homelessness prevention.

Collins said people won't be able to just get a check and go on their way. The various organizations will monitor the recipients and file progress reports to the federal government.

Chris Havens • 612-673-4148