FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
November 24, 2020
Mayor Melvin Carter Announces COVID Response Temporary Shelter Preparations at Two City Facilities For Emergency Overnight Use By Residents Experiencing Homelessness
Harriet Island Pavilion and Duluth and Case Recreation Center to Be Staged and Available for Emergency Overnight Use by Residents Experiencing Homelessness As The City, Ramsey County, State of Minnesota, and Partners Work to Ready
Additional Shelter Spaces Amid COVID
SAINT PAUL, MN - Today, Mayor Melvin Carter announced COVID Response Temporary Shelter preparations at two Parks and Recreation facilities for emergency overnight use by unsheltered residents. The two Saint Paul Parks and Recreation facilities - Harriet Island Pavilion and the Duluth and Case Recreation Center - will be available to provide up to 100 residents experiencing homelessness, 50 at each location, with temporary shelter space in an emergency overnight capacity.
The sites will be activated in those instances when existing shelters at Catholic Charities, Union Gospel Mission, and the Ramsey County Safe Space reach capacity. Under those circumstances, unsheltered adults will be referred to these temporary shelters through established referral protocols, with Catholic Charities acting as the primary referral source.
The two Parks and Recreation facilities will be staged and available for activation through December 31, 2020 when non-emergency shelter capacity is scheduled to be operational at Bethesda Hospital. The announcement comes as the City, Ramsey County, State of Minnesota, and partners work to ready more permanent shelter space for the coming winter months amid the ongoing challenges of the COVID pandemic.
“I am thankful for the deep coordination required to meet our extraordinary challenges with an extraordinary response, and particularly for Deputy Mayor Tincher, who has championed this work from the beginning,” said Mayor Melvin Carter. “We will stop at nothing to find new ways to care for one another through this crisis, particularly as temperatures drop.”
”We are proud to work in partnership with our city, county, and non-profit partners to provide 100 temporary shelter spaces for our neighbors in Saint Paul,” said Governor Tim Walz. “This expanded shelter space is an important stopgap to make sure Minnesotans experiencing homelessness are sheltered and safe this winter while we work together on long-term solutions.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the housing crisis that our relatives and neighbors have been facing for a long time,” said Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. “We know that shelter saves lives, and housing solves homelessness. This partnership is critical to provide these short- and long-term strategies to keep folks safe.”
“As the City, County and our partners work to establish longer-term shelter options for the unprecedented numbers of people in our community experiencing homelessness, we face an urgent need for temporary shelter space,” said Council President Amy Brendmoen. “These City assets offer a short-term solution to this challenge, and makes sure we can safely shelter those in need.”
“This pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for individuals living outdoors, placing a strain on our ability to provide shelter space to those in need,” said Ramsey County Board Chair Toni Carter. “We applaud the City for preparing COVID Response Temporary Shelter for those in our community experiencing homelessness and stand ready to assist.”
“Increasing overnight shelter capacity is a critical need, especially as we approach the winter months,” said Ramsey County Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo. “This effort from the City helps us bridge the gap in the short term as we continue working to establish longer-term shelter capacity in response to this crisis.”
ABOUT COVID RESPONSE TEMPORARY SHELTER SPACE OPERATIONS
As COVID Response Temporary Shelter, the Harriet Island Pavilion and Duluth and Case Recreation Center will:
- Include up to 100 cots, 50 each at the two locations
- Be open to unsheltered adults, men and women, through established protocols, with Catholic Charities acting as the primary referral source.
- Have operating hours of 8:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m.
These COVID Response Temporary Shelters will have trained staff managing the facilities, and security available overnight during operating hours. The City is also working to establish a transportation plan to move individuals safely between referring providers and the operating locations. These facilities are ready and available for shelter use as needed by our community. These shelter operations have a budget of approximately $500,000. The State of Minnesota is a funding partner in these city and county efforts to create emergency shelter spaces through its Emergency Services Program through the Minnesota Department of Human Services.
ABOUT THE NEED FOR ADDITIONAL TEMPORARY SHELTER SPACE
The City’s team, led by Saint Paul Deputy Mayor Jaime Tincher, and Ramsey County have prioritized responding to the housing crisis in our community long before the COVID-19 pandemic began. However, COVID-19 and its economic impacts have further exacerbated that crisis. This has contributed to the rise in the number of unsheltered individuals living in tents, under bridges, in the woods, and in caves in the city, and has strained existing shelter systems as they have had to reduce their usable space to provide safe, socially distant services and accommodations for emergency shelter.
As the City, County and Partners work to ready more permanent shelter space, existing overnight shelter space frequently nears, or reaches capacity. These shelters include:
- Ramsey County Safe Space: 64-bed capacity
- Union Gospel Mission: 177-bed capacity
- Higher Ground: 178-bed capacity
- Elder’s Shelter: 115-bed capacity
- Mary Hall: 114-bed capacity
- Women’s Couple’s-Shelter: 80-bed capacity
Today, there are approximately 304 people sheltering outdoors throughout the City of Saint Paul. The COVID Response Temporary Shelters at these two Parks facilities will help reduce the risk of life-threatening exposure to winter conditions for the unprecedented number of unsheltered individuals currently sheltering outdoors in Saint Paul until more permanent shelter options become available.
ABOUT THE CITY’S ONGOING RESPONSE TO THE HOUSING CRISIS EXACERBATED BY COVID
Since 2018, the City of Saint Paul has collected information on encampment locations in order to monitor the safety and health of occupants while working to connect those experiencing unsheltered homelessness to support, services and resources. The City’s process includes:
- Conducting initial wellness checks when an encampment location is identified, and generating a general assessment of the location, conditions, genders, and age ranges and the number of occupants.
- Convening weekly meetings with city staff, county staff, MNDOT, Metro Transit, outreach and other partners to review each site and ensure that occupants are being connected to case workers for housing and other resources and services.
- Prior to COVID, the City considered closing and clearing encampments on a site by site basis by assessing risk factors such as:
- Dangers posed by physical location, including weather conditions
- Environmental and health hazards
- Reports of violence, trafficking and other criminal and antisocial behavior
- Size and duration, including build-up of trash and waste.
- Before clearing a site, the city would provide notice to outreach staff and the occupants to minimize loss of property and personal documents, and offered Ramsey County congregate shelter space to all occupants.
RESPONSE AMID COVID
To respond to immediate needs of our unsheltered residents amid the pandemic, the City of Saint Paul and Ramsey County developed action plans to address short-term immediate needs of individuals with no housing, while addressing longer-term and permanent options to serve individuals experiencing homelessness.
This short-term immediate response has included:
- Following the Governor’s Executive Orders 20-20 and Executive Order 20-33, the City temporarily halted the practice of closing encampment sites during the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the Governor’s order issued in late April which permitted local governments to close an encampment if it has well-documented threats to the health, safety, or security of residents, the City resumed the risk review process for sites on a case-by-case basis.
- Through the summer, the City, County and partners, worked to balance the basic human needs of those who have no alternative shelter available, contain the spread of the virus, and manage the various safety and security risks at encampment sites through these measures:
- Providing porta-potties and portable hand washing stations at select sites to help minimize the impact of the virus on encampment occupants as well as help mitigate the spread through the broader unsheltered population and the general public.
- Working with partners to provide meals to encampment occupants which has now reached 300-500 meals per day, prepared and delivered in coordination with support services like first aid, mental and chemical health assessments.
- To reduce community spread, Ramsey County depopulated large shelters by 50% and moved residents into area hotels so that they could physically distance.
The City and County’s longer-term response and planning includes:
- Designing and establishing new shelter spaces.
- Adding additional day space, to meet personal hygiene needs, respite, and offer space for outreach partners to meet privately with homeless individuals.
The City and County are planning to have additional sites to meet these needs operational by December 31, 2020, and anticipate having additional information available in the coming weeks.