Our Ongoing Response to Support Individuals Experiencing Homelessness
Like communities across our nation, Saint Paul is experiencing a housing crisis along the full housing continuum. This has created challenges for those in our community in need of stable, accessible, fair, and equitable housing, and for those experiencing unsheltered homelessness. Efforts such as the City of Saint Paul’s Housing Trust Fund, developed by Mayor Melvin Carter to produce, preserve, and protect housing affordability for residents and our Families First Pilot Program have helped respond to the many housing needs of our community.
Our Coordinated Response to Unsheltered Homelessness During COVID-19
Since 2018, the City has been actively responding to encampments through coordination and outreach in collaboration with Ramsey County, and nonprofit partners. Protocols are in place to monitor the safety and health of encampment residents, and ensure access to services. The City acts to restrict and close encampments when necessary to protect the health, safety or security of encampment residents. Before any action is taken on an encampment the City works with Ramsey County and nonprofit partners to find safe, stable housing for encampment residents. Our guiding principles:
- Everyone experiencing unsheltered homelessness is deserving of being treated with dignity and respect and in accordance with their rights.
- Every effort must be made to connect people to housing, shelter, and services.
- Encampments do not provide a safe, healthy or secure living environment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the numbers of people who are experiencing homelessness, and starting in 2020 the related economic impacts led to more residents sheltering in unsafe conditions in tents, under bridges, in caves. The pandemic also affected the way local jurisdictions respond to encampments. With the goal of limiting the spread of COVID-19, Governor Tim Walz’s peacetime emergency and subsequent Executive Orders in 2020 outlined the conditions under which local jurisdictions could restrict, limit or close encampments. Those orders allowed encampments to be cleared if a local governmental entity either provided sufficient alternate housing, shelter or encampment space that complies with public health guidance, or if an encampment reached a size or status that posed a documented threat to the health, safety or security of residents.
Working in collaboration with Ramsey County and our outreach partners, we gather information and make decisions on a case-by-case basis to ensure our efforts align with our guiding principles. Our efforts remain focused on supporting the safety and health of unsheltered residents amid the pandemic and beyond. Our strategies include responding to the increased need for shelter, housing supports, and housing options, and expanding access to healthcare, mental/chemical health assessments, day space, and shelter options for women, youth, LGBTQ, and other specific needs. The rising number of encampments during the pandemic has led at times to friction with nearby neighbors and businesses. One response has been City support of the "Block by Block" program, which employs Ambassadors to not only help maintain clean and welcoming streets in the downtown area but also to assist individuals experiencing homelessness access services. Ambassadors may also provide crime prevention information. When a law enforcement response is called for, Saint Paul Police call upon specialized units and increased patrols in targeted areas.
Learn more about our response to support the safety and health of unsheltered residents from this presentation to the Saint Paul City Council.
Learn more about Ramsey County efforts here:
- Housing Stability in Ramsey County
- Preventing & Ending Homelessness
- Housing Services & Support
- Housing Resources
The City's experience in 2020 confirmed that homeless encampments do not provide a safe, healthy, or secure living environment. A City cross-departmental team regularly visited encampment sites to assess each location and plan how to address challenges brought on by harsh weather and other conditions. Those visits included wellness checks, engaging our Neighbors Helping Neighbors volunteers and ensuring every person experiencing homelessness was aware of the additional capacity for emergency shelter and how to access resources. The City went from a count of nearly 400 individuals in encampment sites in 2020 to less than 50.
In addition to its hotel program Ramsey County began post-COVID to add shelter program capacity, Luther Seminary, Mary Hall, Bethesda Hospital and the Provincial House at Carondelet (for families with minor children), which are now open. Freedom House in downtown Saint Paul, operated by Listening House, is also open for drop-in referral and other services during the day. In partnership with Ramsey County, we have created options to serve families and couples, including LGBTQ couples, provide storage of belongings, and meet transportation needs.
The City has thoughtfully closed approximately 60 unique encampments (many multiple times), aligning resources and services with occupants before and during closures. Many occupants are now in new low-barrier shelters, established through City-County partnerships, and have access to programming that leads to more permanent housing and supports. We will continue to close encampments based on safety risks as long as low-barrier shelter beds are available.
While these efforts help respond to the urgent needs brought on by this pandemic, we share an ongoing commitment to long-term permanent, affordable, and supportive housing to address housing instability in our community. Going forward our goals include: Connecting residents to longer-term supportive community resources; de-escalating situations without risk of resident harm; and providing a supportive and appropriately trained response team of City staff.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What indoor options are provided for residents of the encampments?
In addition to the hotel program Ramsey County began in 2020 to add shelter program capacity, Luther Seminary, Mary Hall, the former Bethesda Hospital and the Provincial House at Carondelet are now open. These provide individual housing units with options to serve couples, including LGBTQ couples. Families are also provided individual housing units in additional locations.
City staff have been engaging residents staying at encampments throughout the City to ensure they know about and have access to the indoor options available. In advance of a closing, the city and county confirm availability of indoor housing units for all residents.
Freedom House in downtown Saint Paul, operated by Listening House, is open for drop-in referral and other services during the day.
Q. What about safety and security in shelter?
All options in the Ramsey County shelter program have 24/7 on-site staff. The staff reflect the residents and have diverse experiences. They work to build relationships with residents and are CPR and Narcan trained. Wraparound services are provided in all programs: 3 meals per day; on-site mental health services; transportation services; health care and nursing. The goal is to provide pathways to housing stability with on-site benefit and housing navigation provided as well as support to remove barriers for housing readiness. Trauma-informed security, rooted in de-escalation, is provided 24/7 at all locations.
Q. What about concerns regarding COVID?
All shelter operations are following the CDC and MDH guidance to protect clients and staff from COVID.
Q. What is the long-term plan for residents experiencing homelessness?
While these efforts are a response to the urgent needs brought on by this pandemic, our ongoing commitment is to long-term permanent, affordable, and supportive housing to address the housing needs in our community.
How to help
We ask concerned residents who wish to help to let us know when they see a new encampment in their area. It is our intention to support individuals experiencing homelessness in taking the steps needed to transition to a more stable housing option.
We work with numerous community partners on unsheltered and COVID-19 relief efforts. Visit stpaul.gov/neighbors to learn more about volunteering with Neighbors Helping Neighbors.
Outreach partners People Incorporated and RADIAS Health accept financial contributions to support their work providing access to services. Listening House of Saint Paul has an "Amazon Wish List" from which needed clothing, personal hygiene and other items may be purchased and shipped to its locations for distribution to guests. Visit the Listening House website or call 651-227-5911.
In addition to your preferred homeless service providers, other City nonprofit partners include Model Cities of Saint Paul; Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis/Higher Ground Saint Paul Shelter; and Union Gospel Mission.
Project Home of Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul is located at the Provincial House, owned by Sisters of St Joseph of Carondolet. Project Home provides an important transitional space for homeless families, offering financial and job coaching as well as other services. Visit this website Project Home at the Provincial House to learn more.
Voice of East African Women, with culturally specific programming and family shelter services for victims of domestic violence and abuse, may be reached by calling 651-528-6040, or visit its website
If you see concerning conditions in encampments that threaten the health or safety of encampment or nearby residents, call the City’s Information and Complaint line at 651-266-8989. If you observe behavioral or security issues, please call the Saint Paul Police Department’s non-emergency number 651-291-1111. These reports assist us in making informed decisions about sites going forward.