A St. Paul fire station in the West 7th neighborhood is slated to become a day shelter for people experiencing homelessness.

Fire Station 51, at 296 W. 7th St., would give unsheltered people a place to escape weather conditions, use bathrooms and connect with social services.

It's part of a patchwork of solutions that the city and Ramsey County are piecing together as days turn cold and the number of people living outside in St. Paul hovers around 300.

"What's happening downtown right now is a humanitarian crisis," said Council Member Rebecca Noecker, whose ward includes downtown and West 7th. "As winter closes in, it's just becoming incredibly dire."

Noecker said the city and county are preparing to announce multiple new shelter spaces after considering more than 40 properties in recent months. St. Paul-based Listening House will run the day shelter, which will operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Officials are planning to keep the space open for 18 months, Noecker said.

The Fire Department has conducted EMS training out of Fire Station 51, which is an active station with two ambulances, according to Deputy Fire Chief Ken Adams.

Those programs and services will continue in different locations, he said.

St. Paul and Ramsey County, like Minneapolis and other metro communities, are racing this year to find solutions to a surge in homelessness stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In September, city officials cleared an encampment near Interstate 35E that, at its high point, had grown to about 80 people.

The Ramsey County Board voted unanimously last month to rent the shuttered Bethesda Hospital from Fairview Health, providing 100 beds for 18 months. The county is also planning to find longer-term and less expensive housing for people currently living in hotels.

Existing downtown shelters also have some available beds, Noecker said, though not enough to house the hundreds of people living in tents, under bridges and in caves.

"It's going to get cold again," said Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo.. "I know that we are actually moving toward buying sleeping bags for people who are left outside."

A virtual information meeting on the proposed day shelter is scheduled for Tuesday. For more information, visit bit.ly/3mVZGRR.

Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509