Without help from the 2022 Minnesota Legislature, Ramsey County officials face the daunting task of providing shelter for homeless people with the county’s own funds—either that or see more people living in outdoor encampments.

The County Board on May 24 took three actions to continue providing housing for the short term. One is a loan of up to $5.8 million from the county’s general fund balance to meet the current cash flow needs of the Homeless Shelter Project. That is the second loan this year to help cover shelter costs. In January the County Board approved a $5 million loan.

The County Board also voted to extend until June 22 the leases for Luther Seminary’s Stub Hall in Saint Anthony Park and for Mary Hall in downtown to continue providing housing for the homeless. The hope was that by the end of June the state Legislature will have provided some level of funding for homeless shelters.

An issue of statewide concern.

Commissioners view the homeless situation in Saint Paul as a statewide issue due to the number of homeless people who are not from Ramsey County. A survey conducted several months ago indicated that almost half of those in need of shelter were not from the county. Just under 30 percent were from Minnesota communities outside of the county, 18 percent were from out of state, and another 11 percent did not have a clearly defined permanent address. 

State Representative Rena Moran (DFL-District 65A) and Senator David Senjem (R-Rochester) worked together on a bill to provide up to $14.5 million annually for five years for Ramsey County’s emergency shelter operations. The annual allocation was later reduced by state lawmakers to $8 million and then to $6 million. However, the session ended on May 23 with no action taken on the county’s homeless prevention efforts. It is not known if a special session of the Legislature will be called.

“A lot of things we care about were left undone” by the Legislature, said County Board chair Trista MatasCastillo. She called the lack of funding for the homeless “extremely disappointing.”

Federal and state funding has run out.

County officials have intensified efforts to house the homeless since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, spending more than $50 million to provide help for about 1,800 people. Congregate shelters and large outdoor encampments were replaced with new shelters that had room for social distancing. The shelters were paid for through a variety of sources, including federal CARES Act and American Recovery Plan funds, Community Development Block Grants, other federal funds and the Minnesota Department of Human Services. However, the federal and state dollars have run out.

Ramsey County is now seeking funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for reimbursement for eligible expenses related to homeless shelters. Commissioners are concerned they may not be able to pay back the two Homeless Shelter Project loans with available resources.

Ramsey County provided as many as 500 shelter beds during the pandemic with the help of nonprofit organizations, hotels and others. County officials had hoped to suspend the extended shelter system by June, but a surge in COVID has delayed matters.

Nevertheless, a shelter at the former Bethesda Hospital near the Capitol closed in May, as did the Freedom House day shelter on West Seventh Street. The county’s Housing Stability team is now working with outside partners to continue support beyond June for Provincial House, the shelter for homeless families run by Interfaith Action in the Sisters of Saint Joseph’s building at 1890 Randolph Ave.

— Jane McClure


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