Addressing Homelessness in 2019

by Rafael Ortega

In my work, certain issues keep coming up. One of them is homelessness. I spoke at a community meeting downtown last week and the subject of homelessness dominated the discussion. And, clearly, thoughtful residents throughout my district are worried about where people without homes go to sleep.

We have three new efforts this year:

First, beginning in mid-November, up to 20 county staff each week will support clients at Catholic Charities’ St. Paul Opportunity Center. Employees from the Child Support division of the County Attorney’s Office, Community Corrections, Financial Assistance Services, Social Services, Veterans Services and Workforce Solutions will be available on-site to provide coordinated help to those experiencing homelessness. We will offer workforce development services, financial and food assistance, veterans services, mental health services, connections to probation officers and assessments, so that people can get onto housing waitlists.

Second, on the other side of downtown St. Paul — at the East Building — we began year-round operations at the Safe Space in November. We are providing an emergency overnight place to stay each night for individuals. Plans for these operations have been years in the making with many of our regional partners — thanks to all who have participated and continue this critical work.

The shelter will be open every night from 10 p.m. to 9 a.m. to provide a warm place to sleep for up to 64 people who are sleeping outside, in skyways, on transit and in their cars. It offers low-barrier shelter options for men and women who are referred from Metro Transit Police, SPPD, Catholic Charities, Radias Health and People Inc. The non-profit Model Cities will operate the shelter.

Third, Interfaith Action of Greater St. Paul, a nonprofit coalition of churches, synagogues and other houses of worship, now operates the Project Home Day Shelter in Lowertown. The day shelter provides meals, showers, laundry, learning space, and social assistance for homeless families who sleep in churches and synagogues during the night. It also provides a consistent place for school buses to drop off and pick up kids. A social worker helps the family create a housing plan, find employment, and childcare services.

Many of you have asked how you can help and here are a few things I ask of folks:

  1. Advocate for more housing and more affordable housing! Support density locally and the legislative work of groups like “Homes for All.” We need more homes and services at all income levels.
  2. If you see an encampment you can call 651-266-8989; this will make sure outreach workers and city staff are aware of it and begin the effort to connect campers with services.
  3. Volunteer or donate to the nonprofit shelter providers: Voices of East African Women, Catholic Charities, Union Gospel Mission, Model Cities, Interfaith Action, etc.
  4. Is your parish or place of worship connected to interfaith action? It’s a great network that helps coordinate services and housing for those most in need. 

Have a safe, warm holiday season and I hope I see you soon.

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