The Saint Paul City Council approved a lease on November 18 with the Listening House to operate a day shelter for homeless people out of the former Fire Station 51, 296 W. Seventh St. The lease is for $1 and the shelter is expected to operate there for at least 18 months beginning in December.

The former fire station, which is referred to as Freedom House, most recently was occupied by the Saint Paul Fire Department’s Emergency Medical Services Academy and two ambulances. The program and ambulances are being moved to other locations.

More than 60 people participated in a virtual forum on November 10 to discuss the shelter with city and Listening House officials.

“We’re here because we really have a humanitarian crisis on our hands,” said Ward 2 City Council member Rebecca Noecker.

It is estimated that Saint Paul has more than 300 homeless people currently living outdoors, a number that has increased tenfold since 2019. There are about 90 homeless encampments in the city, with about 268 tents. City officials regularly visit the encampments, including one that recently sprang up on state property at Snelling Avenue and I-94.

Ricardo Cervantes, director of the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections, and Deputy Mayor Jamie Tincher said the COVID-19 pandemic has raised additional challenges as day and overnight shelters work to maintain safe social distancing between people. That means fewer people can go to shelters to stay warm and receive services.

“We have an urgent need for more day and overnight shelters,” Cervantes said.


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“We’re here because we really have a humanitarian crisis on our hands,” said Ward 2 City Council member Rebecca Noecker.

Cervantes and Tincher said the city and Ramsey County are continuing to look at options for additional shelters. A city-county working group is trying to get people out of encampments, caves or beneath bridges before the temperatures plummet.

The former Bethesda Hospital is being pressed into service by the county to house homeless people. The county also is looking at longer-term solutions that are less expensive than its current practice of renting out hotel rooms for homeless people.

Listening House has provided day shelter and resources in locations in and near downtown Saint Paul for almost 37 years. It moved to a church in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood a few years ago after losing its location near the Catholic Charities complex in downtown. That sparked a fight with neighbors and a lawsuit against the city over what Listening House officials saw as onerous operating conditions. The lawsuit was settled in 2018.

Listening House will operate the shelter at the former fire station the same way it does its Dayton’s Bluff location. Visitors will be able to obtain food, water and clothing there. The pandemic has limited capacity at the Dayton’s Bluff location to 20-30 people at a time. Those numbers could double at the former fire station.

The station will provide lockers and showers, which are not offered at the Dayton’s Bluff location and would be a welcome addition, according to Listening House director Cheryl Peterson. The station would be open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. and have about half a dozen staff on hand.

Most West End neighbors who participated in the virtual meeting on November 10 expressed support for the day shelter at the station, though there were questions about the time lag between the 8 p.m. closing and the 10 p.m. opening of the Ramsey County Safe Space in downtown.  

Some neighbors asked about trash pickup around the shelter and provisions for an outdoor smoking area. A few neighbors raised concerns about homeless people breaking into their garages and vehicles. It is hoped that the new day shelter will alleviate some of those problems.

— Jane McClure


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