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Bethesda Hospital Site FAQs
The following FAQ provides answers to questions raised by community members during Town Hall meetings.
Project details and community engagement
How did the idea of turning Bethesda Hospital into a homeless shelter come to be?
M Health Fairview decided independently to take Bethesda Hospital out of its health care system. M Health Fairview officials approached Ramsey County to lease the site after making that decision. Bethesda has served a community in need with medical services for decades and is uniquely fashioned to serve a community in need of housing now that M Health Fairview has taken the hospital offline.
This project is a surprise. Why haven’t you been consulting the community about the opportunity?
This opportunity came as a surprise to us as well. M Health Fairview approached us about leasing the site in mid-September. We held a virtual town hall about the site on Oct. 8 and have been doing additional community outreach following the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners’ unanimous approval of the lease on Oct. 20.
While this specific site is new, our outreach on this issue is not. We have been doing outreach across the county about homelessness over the past several years and consistently get feedback from residents around the county who want us to provide resources and shelter to people facing these challenges. This site is a great opportunity to provide emergency housing for those in our community experiencing homelessness.
Will you be seeking additional input from the community?
The Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a lease for this space on Oct. 20, and the shelter opened on Dec. 22 and 23. The county held virtual town hall meetings on Oct. 29 and Nov. 9 and will continue to engage the surrounding community and neighbors as plans for the site progress and services come online in the weeks and months ahead.
What type of people does the emergency shelter serve?
As the county began its operational planning for opening this facility, and as we heard more from the nearby community, we have focused in more on the desired approach for how to best use this location. Initially, Bethesda was discussed as an opportunity to have a new referral program from outreach teams and law enforcement. Now, we shifted that slightly. Bethesda is a location for other shelters (Safe Space, Higher Ground, Union Gospel, and other Ramsey County operated shelters) to refer men to. There are currently more than 300 people sleeping outdoors in Saint Paul on any given night, which is an untenable situation in our community. This plan for Bethesda allows us to expand our shelter capacity across our current system and create more space for individuals still sleeping outside each evening to have a place to go. Those who are experiencing chemical dependency or mental health issues can receive on-site services at this location as well. Additionally, the site has a separate space to serve as a respite location for those who were exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19.
Who is operating the shelter?
Ramsey County is partnering with The Salvation Army to provide shelter services for people experiencing homelessness at the Bethesda Shelter in Saint Paul. Beginning in May 2021, The Salvation Army will operate the shelter, provide programming for guests, and connect them with permanent housing opportunities and other community resources. Security, janitorial and food services will continue to be provided by Ramsey County. The county will also equip the shelter with beds, cots, linens and other basic necessities.
How do people access services at the shelter?
The Bethesda site operates as a referral program for existing shelters (Safe Space, Higher Ground, Union Gospel, and other Ramsey County operated shelters) and allows us to increase our capacity across the county to serve this population.
Once referred, residents can stay for several days – like the county’s existing hotel programs. They can stay in their own rooms with access to meals and care, as well as day services to provide stability and resources, including mental health, chemical dependency, housing stability, veteran and workforce programs.
Were any updates needed to convert the hospital into an emergency shelter?
Bethesda Hospital is perfectly suited to serve as a shelter. This turnkey facility is in good condition with multiple elevator banks, staircases and wings that can be secured off from one another. There are individual patient rooms and offices in good condition, and it also features restrooms and showers as well as laundry and kitchen/dining facilities.
Will health care services continue to be provided at Bethesda Hospital?
Ramsey County is seeking partners to assist with providing services for the population who will reside within the building. We have posted a request for service providers to consider being part of a collaborative and wraparound approach to providing important services to residents at Bethesda. Also, Ramsey County is in discussions with M Health Fairview to understand options in which they might provide services within the building for residents and/or the surrounding community, but no decisions have been made. Additionally, Ramsey County now has the approvals needed to offer a drive-through COVID testing at Bethesda. This will be coming online soon and we will work with the community to share information about frequency and approach for obtaining COVID testing at Bethesda.
Did you consider any other facilities to provide emergency shelter?
We’ve been looking for other appropriate places for additional shelter since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the capacity to house people before winter hits is beyond what we currently have. We have looked at places like the State Fairgrounds, the National Guard Armory and other locations, but the limited options that were available were either too expensive, unable to serve people in a dignified way or not available during the timeline we needed to help people this winter.
This opportunity at Bethesda Hospital is a short-term solution that helps us stabilize a community in need. Additionally, we have added shelter capacity through a temporary women and couple's shelter in the Saint Anthony Park neighborhood and a family shelter in the Highland Park neighborhood.
How is Ramsey County paying for this shelter?
Part of our role as a county is to provide social services for people experiencing homelessness, and we have existing budget to provide these services. Right now, we have money to fund this project through 2022 through leveraging every state dollar available.
What will happen when the facility’s lease is up in 2022? Will this temporary shelter end up being a long-term solution?
At this point, the Ramsey County Board has only approved a lease through 2022.
What will happen to the Fairview workers who have been laid off?
M Health Fairview's decision to close Bethesda Hospital resulted in the unfortunate loss of jobs. Ramsey County has numerous resources available to those who have lost their jobs. Resources for job seekers.
Are there COVID-19 health screenings and precautions at the shelter?
Since March, we have been working with our partners at shelters across the county to put in place strategies to ensure staff and clients are safe and have resources and care in the event they get sick. Currently, we do special testing within our shelter spaces as needed. People who show symptoms or test positive are placed in a respite site so they can be in isolation and quarantine.
We’ve been successful in keeping infection rates low and continue to use these strategies at Bethesda. A special area of the building will be used to provide COVID-19 respite care and symptom monitoring currently provided for a small number of individuals at the former Boys Totem Town site.
Will the shelter bring an influx of people to our neighborhood?
Ramsey County is one of hundreds of counties across the region experiencing a housing crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, encampments have sprung up around the Twin Cities, including many near the Bethesda Hospital.
Rather than operating as a first-come, first-served facility, the Bethesda site operates as a referral location for other emergency shelters. Other emergency shelters work with residents who are interested in this location and then relocate them to Bethesda, if space allows.
What are you doing to ensure safety and security around the shelter? What is the police’s role in supporting safety measures for this facility?
The Bethesda Hospital site is an opportunity to provide unsheltered people – many of whom are currently living in and around the neighborhood – with support and services.
We understand the importance of safety in residential neighborhoods. Ramsey County and M Health Fairview are providing around-the-clock security services at the site’s entrances and grounds. A 24/7 phone line (612-702-7124) is available for neighbors to report non-emergency incidents occurring on the building’s perimeter and grounds.
Additionally, the Saint Paul Police Department regularly patrols the neighborhood and be active partners in developing solutions to any challenges that arise. Neighbors should call 911 to report emergencies and the non-emergency line (651-291-1111) to report non-emergency issues in the neighborhood.
Outreach staff is also nearby, connecting people already in the neighborhood to services. The increased presence of professional staff trained in providing trauma-informed services and de-escalation tactics helps support the safety and security of the neighborhood.
How can I refer people to the Bethesda emergency shelter?
Residents can be referred to Bethesda after they have stayed in another shelter in Ramsey County. Single adults who are 22 years or older and seeking immediate shelter can call Catholic Charities - Higher Ground (formerly the Dorothy Day Center) at 651-647-2350 and choose option #7. Single men can also call Union Gospel Mission at 651-292-1721.
How many people are sleeping outside right now?
An estimated 300 people are currently sleeping outside each night across the City of Saint Paul. Our end goal, through both short-term and long-term solutions implemented with the support of various public and private partners, is to get everyone off the street and safely inside.
What happens to the other 200 people who will not be served by this facility?
There is a regional effort happening right now to expand shelter space, and we will be doing everything we can to address the immediate need and stabilize the community as the winter turns cold and COVID-19 continues. This site is one part of that broader strategy.
This is a short-term solution. What long-term solutions are the county investing in to help address homelessness?
The Bethesda site is a short-term solution, but a very strong one. Over the past several years, the county has been working closely with a network of government, nonprofit, public safety, business and other community partners on the unsheltered homelessness crisis. This includes providing long-term shelter users with stable housing, connecting unsheltered individuals with resources and offering emergency shelter during winter months. Much still needs to be done, and the county is actively advocating for additional funding from the state to support these efforts. More options for moving out of homelessness and into affordable housing are needed across the state.
Will this replace Ramsey County’s services of providing people experiencing homelessness with hotel rooms?
The Bethesda shelter will add to the capacity at a time when shelters and congregate settings need to be spread out for safety during COVID-19.
How is Ramsey County addressing the needs of unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness?
Ramsey County is finalizing a series of actionable recommendations for how it can best serve youth experiencing homelessness. In the meantime, other county partners and service providers including Lutheran Social Services, Salvation Army, Ain Dah Yung Center, and Face to Face have stepped up to assist in filling this gap, with some funding provided by Ramsey County’s Continuum of Care program.
What would the effect be on encampments?
Fewer people would be in existing encampments during winter months. One hundred beds would be added to help shelter those who are currently living outdoors.