County Manager Column from Dec. 1, 2020

Housing stability focus means no one should sleep outside this winter

Over the last several months, we have been laser-focused to ensure that each and every one of our unsheltered neighbors have a warm, secure place to stay during the upcoming Minnesota winter. With the fast-paced nature of our work – especially during the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic – sometimes the victories and impact of everyday tasks can be overlooked. So, I wanted to take a moment to pause and reflect on some of the incredible strides that we and our partners have made to support those experiencing homelessness – and that will have an enormous impact on the daily realities of many.

To begin with – the Bethesda Hospital site. As referenced in previous updates, the approved lease agreement for the Bethesda site in Saint Paul will allow for the space to be utilized as an emergency shelter space beginning in mid-December through May 31, 2022. The facility will provide up to 100 private beds, separate respite care and 24/7 services through referrals from our homeless outreach teams. Also, we are now formally requesting proposals to contract with local housing, mental health and chemical dependency service providers to operate Bethesda support services.

Another recently approved lease agreement that I know many have worked hard to make a reality is the temporary shelter in the Stub Hall dormitory located on the Luther Seminary campus in the Saint Anthony Park neighborhood in Saint Paul. This facility has the capacity to house more than 75 women and couples experiencing homelessness beginning in mid-December 2020 through April 2021. Like the Bethesda Hospital site, this shelter would be accessible through the referral of our homeless outreach teams and other congregate shelters.

I’m excited to announce that in addition to fully covering the lease and service expenses associated with the new facility at Luther Seminary, $2.4 million in recently awarded funding from the state to Ramsey County and $407,000 from the state to the city of Saint Paul will also continue to cover our critical hotel and emergency shelter programming that will support hundreds of people experiencing homelessness each night. Combined with the increase in available beds through the Bethesda Hospital and Luther Seminary sites, this much-needed boost in funding from the state means that there should be enough resources for everyone in our community to access housing and no one should be sleeping outside this winter.

Since the pandemic began this spring, we have amplified our partnership with the city of Saint Paul to identify new shelter spaces and develop solutions to the challenges of the housing crisis and unsheltered homelessness. The city recently announced a docket of measures they’re investing in to support housing stability. With the help of $400,000 in funding provided by the county, the city is utilizing the Freedom House property in Saint Paul’s West 7th neighborhood as a day shelter for unsheltered individuals to escape weather conditions, access bathrooms and connect one-on-one with on-site essential social services, provided by Ramsey County. This new resource is scheduled to open in early December and will be operational into 2022.

The city has also recently made available two new Parks & Recreation facilities as temporary emergency overnight shelters to aid in COVID-19 mitigation. Up to 100 total cots between the Harriet Island Pavilion and Duluth and Case Recreation Center will be activated as COVID-19 response sites for unsheltered adults.

And finally, at the county level – our staff are continuing to accomplish their incredible, life-changing work each day at an amazing pace. Our new Housing Stability department led by director Keith Lattimore is committed to consolidating housing services and reducing racially biased housing disparities.

In all areas, we’ve increased our funding. Additional support has been given for increased outreach efforts, shelter capacity and programming. We’ve invested $500,000 into our Rapid Rehousing program and $250,000 for outreach expansion to unsheltered families so we can get them connected with resources; we’ve extended hours at our Safe Space shelter, while funding 25 more beds at the Voices of East African Women family shelter on Selby Avenue; we’ve added 75 new slots for long-term housing providers and up to 165 slots for assisted living providers through the state’s Housing Support program; and we’ve created a new Landlord Assistance Program for landlords with renters experiencing financial  challenges.

While we have focused our initial efforts on solving the present housing crisis with temporary shelter solutions, we are now able to marshal our energy and resources into longer-term solutions to end homelessness so that we can stop the overdependence on emergency shelter and provide long-term sustainable solutions and paths out of homelessness.

To everyone who has touched this work in some way – thank you for your tireless dedication to this meaningful work we have so far accomplished! It is all truly a team effort and could not be achieved without our collective energy, expertise and compassion.