Sisters of St. Joseph give big lift to Interfaith Action.

For the past nine months, families facing homelessness have found shelter and sustenance at the Provincial House of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ), 1880 Randolph Ave. Through Interfaith Action of Greater Saint Paul’s Project Home, 98 families—118 adults and 196 children—have found comfort and joy there. And the Sisters of Saint Joseph and residents of the surrounding neighborhood could not be happier for them.

“It’s wonderful to see our neighborhood come together to say, ‘YIMBY, yes in my backyard,’” said Interfaith Action executive director Randi Ilyse, who lives near the Provincial House. “All the neighbors I know are so glad to have Project Home here where we can provide support and enjoy watching the children grow and thrive. We’re all living here because it’s safe, beautiful and nurturing, and we want to make that available to all of the families in Project Home.”

“The neighborhood is wonderful and generous,” said Sara Liegl, program director for Project Home. “The Highland District Council held a drive to collect household items for our guests. We’re grateful to be located in a neighborhood where the families are safe and welcome. And the wonderful Sisters are renting Provincial House to Interfaith Action at a very low rate, and they volunteer frequently.”

Project Home
Project Home shelter co-manager Donna Franklin and Rapid Exit Care manager Amber Gale walk down one of the halls in the former Sisters of Saint Joseph Provincial House with donations for the families staying there. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Helping homeless families is very much in keeping with the Sisters’ mission of “love of God and love of neighbor without distinction,” according to Cathy Steffens, a member of the Sisters’ Province Leadership Team. The Sisters’ focus on “seeking justice for families experiencing homelessness and incorporating action against racism supported our desire to share whatever we could with families who happen to be homeless,” Steffens said. “All of the Sisters are thrilled to be able to share the Provincial House space.”

With the holidays approaching, the Sisters have helped with the Holiday Dignity Shop, providing space and donations and making it possible for parents to get presents for their children. “One of the Sisters’ singing groups will join our holiday gathering to sing carols,” Liegl said.

At the Provincial House, Project Home can accommodate up to 30 families or 100 individuals at a time. “Nearly 67 percent of the families served since March have moved into other housing with the help of our rapid exit team,” Liegl said. “Last year, 91 percent of the families we placed into housing were still stable after six months.

An ideal setup for families experiencing homelessness

“The daily stability we can provide with one central location is wonderful,” Liegl said. “If a child or parent isn’t feeling well, they can stay warm in their room and rest. No need to go out and board a bus in the early morning. School children are getting more sleep, as they don’t have to take a bus to the day center and then another bus to school. Overall, quality sleep is one of the biggest improvements—no more port-a-cribs and cots.”

For more than 20 years, Project Home operated through the generosity of local churches, synagogues and schools that opened their doors to families in need of emergency shelter. “Each day families were transported to a downtown day shelter for meals and services, and each evening they were transported back to the community sites,” Liegl said. However, that model became impossible with COVID-19
restrictions.

The potential use of the Provincial House was discussed at neighborhood meetings a year ago, after the Sisters of Saint Joseph made their former residence available to Project Home. Neighbors and others submitted letters in support of the effort, and the Saint Paul Planning Commission approved a conditional use permit for the shelter.

Project Home
Project Home program director Sara Liegl (left) delivers fresh linens to one of the bedrooms used by families staying at Provincial House. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Families are referred to Project Home by the Ramsey County Shelter Team. Some may have been sleeping in their cars, on a train or bus, in the skyways or abandoned buildings, or doubling up with friends or family. Sometimes children had to be separated from their parents while staying with relatives or friends, and they often missed school as a result.

Once at the Provincial House, Liegl said, “families are given a lovely bedroom with beds and fresh linens for every member, a large closet, dresser, small television, a sink and maybe most important, a key to their door. We also provide towels and
toiletries.”

Refurbished kitchen, large dining room and family sitting rooms

The kitchen facilities at the Provincial House were entirely refurbished with new equipment, lighting and flooring. Families are served three meals a day in a dining room large enough for tables to be spaced six feet apart. “Prior to the pandemic, staff at the day center provided meals,” Liegl said. “Now we have a chef and assistant—Derek and Carlos—for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And when COVID counts are lower, we can have volunteers provide meals on weekends to give the staff a break.”

On several floors of the Provincial House, there are sitting rooms for the families with games, books, televisions and DVD players. Four of the floors have multiple rest­rooms with showers, tubs, toilets and sinks.

The Project Home Rapid Exit Case Management Team and Family Advocates have offices in the Provincial House. They focus on the programs for families, including child care and school accessibility, and help families with both economic mobility and housing stability.

“We help with benefits applications, job hunting and skills training,” Liegl said. “We work with families to get important documents such as state IDs, birth certificates and Social Security cards, all required if a family hopes to be chosen for transitional or supportive housing. Other families just need help finding housing that is low market-rate and will give them a second chance.

“Much of our work is building relationships with landlords and coaching families on how to present themselves honestly but in the best light,” Liegl said. “Many landlords love the fact that we provide six months of followup support and referral services for the families after they move out of our shelter. That extra support in those first months is important in ensuring stability.”

—Anne Murphy

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