Ramsey County’s effort to obtain new funding for its emergency homeless shelter network continues on several fronts at the state Capitol. Without additional support, local officials fear that people who are homeless will have no place to shelter when the current federal funding runs out.

Heading Home Ramsey County, a city-county-partnership, is asking the state Legislature for $14.5 million a year for five years to keep four emergency shelters operating. The bills (HF-3950 and SF-3710) are being carried by state Representative Rena Moran (DFL-District 65A) and Senator David Senjem (R-Rochester). They would pay for the homeless shelters in the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet’s former Provincial House at 1880 Randolph Ave., a former dormitory at Luther Seminary, the former Bethesda Hospital near the Capitol and Mary Hall in downtown Saint Paul.

The four shelters have served hundreds of men, women and children over the past several months. If additional state support is not found, they will have to close in May. Funding is also running out for the Freedom House day shelter, which after 15 months is losing its location on West Seventh Street (see story at ).

Even with the appropriation, about half of the shelter beds will need new locations. The Bethesda space is closing this spring. Owner M Health Fairview wants to open a new psychiatric facility there. Ramsey County will also need to replace its beds at Mary Hall. Built more than a century ago as housing for nurses working at nearby Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Mary Hall was recently purchased by the nonprofit Aeon for renovation as 88 affordable apartments.

“We have just a few weeks before we could see a real impact and maybe even see folks moving outside,” said Ramsey County Board chair Trista MatasCastillo. “That’s the thing keeping me up at night.”

The county and city have spent more than $35 million in emergency federal funding on increased homeless shelter needs during the pandemic. Since the summer of 2020, Saint Paul has reduced the number of people living in outdoor encampments from about 400 to 25.

Even with the appropriation, about half of the shelter beds will need new locations. The Bethesda space is closing this spring. Owner M Health Fairview wants to open a new psychiatric facility there. Ramsey County will also need to replace its beds at Mary Hall. Built more than a century ago as housing for nurses working at nearby Saint Joseph’s Hospital, Mary Hall was recently purchased by the nonprofit Aeon for renovation as 88 affordable apartments.

 

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Another bill before the Legislature, HF-4255, would provide $145.95 million over the next two years and $92.7 million over the following biennium for homeless services statewide. That bill includes $8 million for Heading Home Ramsey. The rest would go to safe harbor grants, Hennepin County needs and other emergency homeless shelters and services.

HF-4255 was presented on March 30 in the House Preventing Homelessness Division and moved on to the House Human Services Finance and Policy Committee on a 7-4 party-line vote. A Republican effort to require matching funds for some grants failed. The bill, authored by Representative Aisha Gomez (DFL-Minneapolis), incorporates several other individual bills. It has no Senate companion bill, although some of the combined requests do have Senate companions.

Gomez called HF-4225 “transformative” in its approach to homeless needs statewide. Not only would it provide additional funding for existing programs, it would make it easier for veterans and people on Social Security or Social Security Disability to maintain housing, would require studies specific to homeless youth, and would extend the duration of transitional housing from 24 to 36 months.

— Jane McClure

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