Shelter from the cold — how you can help now

With temperatures below zero most of this week, and on schedule to dive even lower next week, what happens to homeless families and individuals? Usually, shelters shoo people out in the morning, allowing them to return in the evening. But with highs of 25 below zero, that’s not practical. In cold weather, says Stephen Horsfield, “We now have confirmation that St Stephen’s Human Services will also be keeping their shelters open, along with us at Simpson Housing Services, our friends at Our Saviour’s Housing and The Salvation Army Harbor Light Center, Minneapolis keeps open as a warming center on cold days like these.”

That’s tough to do, because shelters are stretched to the max even on normal days. Speaking at a recent memorial for the 147 Minnesotans who died while homeless in 2013, Horsfield said: “We’ve seen our shelters overcrowded or over capacity for the last three years.”

Homelessness remains a huge problem in Minnesota, with the number of homeless people in the state estimated at 14,000 on any given night. Federal budget cuts to housing assistance programs make housing low-income people even harder. According to a recent report, “Over half of the Minnesota agencies administering HCV [Section 8 Vouchers] expect their waiting lists to exceed two years by January of 2014. Sixteen percent have a waiting list that already exceeds six years.”

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service warns that “wind chill values near minus 25 degrees mean that frostbite is possible within 15 minutes.” Monday’s forecast is for absolute temperatures of minus 15 to minus 25, before factoring in wind chill.

The Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul will also stay open all day. It has space for 208 people on the floor, plus some beds in a women’s program upstairs. Gerard Lauer of Catholic Charities says Ramsey County is working on a plan to shelter even people who have been barred from other sites because of misbehavior of one sort or another during these dangerously cold times.

Lauer said that there should be enough shelter spaces available at the beginning of the month, when people have more resources. But, he said, “about the middle of the month and forward, we go beyond our capacity… We are going to be opening an overflow shelter at the middle of the month so we don’t have to turn people away in January, February and March.”

You can help

As staff at shelters work to provide a safe place for homeless families and individuals, they need help. Cash, of course, is always welcome, and allows buying food at cheaper prices than you can get it in the grocery store, as well as necessities like heat and electricity for the shelter. Beyond cash:

If you’d like to add your shelter to the list, just add a comment below. If you are looking for shelter for yourself or someone else, call the Metro Shelter Hotline toll-free, 1-888-234-1329, 24 hours a day.

And one more request

From the Saint Paul Police Department – “We are concerned for the safety of everyone and ask that if you have elderly or disadvantaged neighbors please take time to check on them to help keep all of our residents safe.”

NOTE: Governor Mark Dayton also ordered public school closures across the state on Monday, due to the extreme cold. 

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