A former nunnery in Highland Park could become an emergency shelter for between 22 and 30 families who would otherwise be homeless. The Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondolet (CSJ) are considering leasing their old Provincial House at 1880 Randolph Ave. to Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul for use as a Project Home family shelter.

The Provincial House space was freed up several years ago when the sisters moved into the adjacent Carondolet Village senior housing facility, according to Sister Cathy Steffens, a member of the CSJ leadership team.

The Saint Paul Planning Commission’s Zoning Committee was scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed shelter on December 31. However, at the request of the Sisters, the public hearing was postponed and so was the Planning Commission’s decision on whether or not to approve a conditional use permit for the shelter. The city of Saint Paul requires a conditional use permit for homeless shelters. City staff had recommended approval of the permit.

A virtual meeting on the proposed shelter drew 223 participants on December 21. Many were Project Home volunteers or supporters. While no one expressed outright opposition to the shelter, a few neighbors had questions about operations and what they perceived as a lack of notice. Many others said they would welcome the facility and hope to be able to volunteer there.

Affordable housing for families has been in short supply in Saint Paul for more than a decade, according to Tenecia Trice, supervisor of homeless programs for Ramsey County. Trice said her department sees many families who are working but cannot afford rent and are on long waiting lists for subsidized housing. The COVID-19 pandemic and the unemployment engendered by government shutdowns have only made a bad situation worse.

 

Interfaith Action has worked with local faith-based institutions to provide overnight shelters for families for over 20 years. Initially envisioned as a temporary solution, Project Home has expanded its nightly capacity from 40 to 80 adults and children. 

“The pandemic has changed needs in ways we cannot imagine,” said Sara Liegl, director of Project Home.

 

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Interfaith Action has worked with local faith-based institutions to provide overnight shelters for families for over 20 years. Initially envisioned as a temporary solution, Project Home has expanded its nightly capacity from 40 to 80 adults and children. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, 24 facilities staffed by volunteers took turns providing shelter for the Project Home families for a month. Among the facilities in the Villager area were Cretin-Derham Hall, Mount Zion Temple, and House of Hope Presbyterian, Fairmount Avenue United Methodist, Saint Mark’s Catholic, Redeemer Lutheran, Messiah Episcopal and Gloria Dei Lutheran churches.

Families stayed at the Project Home locations overnight, then went to work or school or spent the day at the nonprofit Family Place downtown. When Family Place shut down more than a year ago, Interfaith Action took over the day program.

Project Home has temporarily relocated to a hotel downtown, but is seeking a long-term location for the program. Randi Roth, executive director of Interfaith Action, said the program hopes to use Provincial House as well as the monthly host sites in the future.

Seventy-one families served in 2020

Seventy-one different families were served by Project Home in 2020, including 130 children and 88 adults. About 87 percent of the children were age 12 or younger. One of the clients was a 4-day-old.

Families are referred to Project Home through Ramsey County’s Continuum of Care program and county shelter team. Clients undergo a background check and are ineligible for the accommodations if they have had any sex offenses or recent violent offenses on their record. The program typically has a waiting list. Spaces free up as families find financial stability and move into housing.

Ramsey County in 2019 had 660 families requesting emergency shelter, but only 185 beds were available. The number of beds increased to 247 in 2020, but so did the demand.

Provincial House is a four-story building on a six-acre campus adjacent to Saint Catherine University. Project Home would occupy the second and third floors primarily, with use of the first and fourth floors available at designated periods. Bathrooms are on the fourth floor and a laundry on the first floor. Three meals a day would be served in the first-floor dining room.

The average stay at Provincial House is anticipated to be about 43 days. A designated outdoor play space would be provided for children, and off-street parking would be available for clients who have a vehicle.

Drugs, alcohol and smoking would not be allowed. Quiet hours would be maintained from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. The facility would be staffed 24 hours a day with volunteers helping out once the pandemic subsides.

A second virtual meeting on the Provincial House shelter was scheduled for 5 p.m. on Tuesday, January 5, after this issue of the Villager went to press.

— Jane McClure

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