St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter on Tuesday made two city buildings available as emergency shelters for the homeless, citing added need due to the pandemic.
The Harriet Island Pavilion and the Duluth and Case Recreation Center will open for up to 50 people each when other shelters are full, the mayor said.
“Ensuring safe spaces for our neighbors is a critical priority that only gets more urgent as temperatures drop,” Carter said in a statement Tuesday.
The two St. Paul Parks and Recreation facilities will be readied to take in homeless adults on a nightly basis until Dec. 31, when more shelter capacity is scheduled to open at Bethesda Hospital.
The move comes as city, county and state officials work on a long-term solution for rising homelessness in the metro area. It has the support of Ramsey County Board Chairwoman Toni Carter and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, who called the move an important stopgap to help people right now.
The sites will open when shelters at Catholic Charities, Union Gospel Mission, and the Ramsey County Safe Space are full. Staff at Catholic Charities will have the authority to refer unsheltered adults to the new emergency shelters.
The sites will operate as shelters from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Trained staff including security will oversee both locations. The shelter operation has a budget of $500,000, according to the statement from Carter’s office.
State funds from the Emergency Services Program of the state Department of Human Services will help cover the cost.
Some 304 people were living outdoors in St. Paul as of Tuesday, according to the mayor’s office. The number of homeless living in the city has risen with the COVID-19 pandemic, and available shelter space can’t meet the demand.
Facilities available now include the Ramsey County Safe Space (64 beds), the Union Gospel Mission (177 beds), Higher Ground (178 beds), a shelter for elders (115 beds), Mary Hall (114 beds) and a shelter for women and couples (80 beds).
Since before the COVID crisis, the city has worked on the problem by documenting each homeless encampment over the last two years, using wellness checks and an assessment of who’s living there to better understand what’s happening, according to Carter’s statement.
Weekly meetings between city and county staff along with the state Department of Transportation, Metro Transit and outreach groups help connect homeless people to case workers.
The city has also monitored the homeless encampments with the intention of closing and clearing them if they become too large, have reports of violence or trafficking, or have environmental or health hazards.
The added risk brought on by the pandemic has had city staff providing port-a-potties and portable hand-washing stations to help minimize the spread of the virus. The city is also supporting the distribution of some 300 to 500 meals per day. And Ramsey County reduced large shelters by 50% to minimize virus spread, moving some people into area hotels.