Nearly 100 homeless seniors staying at the Best Western Capitol Ridge Hotel near downtown Saint Paul were notified on October 29 that they will need to move soon. Ramsey County is terminating its contract with the hotel as of November 30.
 
Catholic Charities’ Homeless Elders Program had partnered with the county to secure the hotel rooms for clients who are particularly vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. Until the last week of October, the clients had felt secure knowing the county had extended its contract with the hotel through May 2022.
 
“Residents were very concerned to learn of this news,” said Melea Blanchard, supervisor of the Homeless Elders Program. “Many expressed fear of returning to an overnight shelter while COVID is still a threat and cold weather is returning.”
homeless elders
In his private room at the Best Western Capitol Ridge, Clyde Bolden extols the virtues of the lawn chair he used when he lived on the street. Bolden and other homeless clients staying at the hotel may be returning to a local homeless shelter by the end of month. Photo by Brad Stauffer
 
Ramsey County’s contract with the hotel provided that it could terminate the lease at anytime with 30 days’ notice, according to county spokesperson John Siqveland. “Though community transmission remains high in Ramsey County and the danger of COVID and its variants remains very present, vaccination is the best way to combat the virus,” he said.
 
Ramsey County’s Housing Stability and Public Health departments have worked for many months to vaccinate homeless people, according to Siqveland. “We’ve provided clinics at our shelter locations and have facilitated vaccinations through other avenues as well,” he said.

No elders leaving Capitol Ridge will find themselves without shelter, according to Siqveland. County staff will “work directly with each resident on his or her next step,” he said. “For some, that will be another shelter. For others, it will be more permanent housing.”

Keith Lattimore, director of Housing Stability for the county, said the contract cancellation is part of an effort to make certain there is funding to support housing for homeless people should there be a surge in homelessness or COVID infections in the months ahead. The county paid for the hotel rooms with money from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Security Act and American Rescue Plan. Those funds have not run out, but there is concern that they could, Lattimore said.
 
No elders leaving Capitol Ridge will find themselves without shelter, according to Siqveland. County staff will “work directly with each resident on his or her next step,” he said. “For some, that will be another shelter. For others, it will be more permanent housing.”
 
“Typically, government moves slowly,” said Ramsey County commissioner Trista Louise Matascastillo. “But we have to be flexible and nimble in a way we never have before.” That includes making sure funds are used in the most beneficial way and working quickly to help the homeless of all ages, she added.
 
“The tight timeline for securing permanent housing for our clients is posing challenges,” Blanchard said. “People may end up in housing that isn’t the right match for their needs and without the support necessary for success. If a place isn’t a great match and challenges ensue, clients could face eviction, and eviction creates additional challenges.
 
“This is a sensitive population with specific needs,” Blanchard said. “We want to do all we can to make sure they stay safe and healthy and continue to receive the care they need to live in dignity.”

— Anne Murphy

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