Storms may be opportunity for unhoused to seek social services

A lot of people have nowhere to go to hide from the storms.

Shelters for the unhoused usually get busier in cold weather and Ramsey County anticipated a lot of people looking for somewhere warm to stay during the stormy nights.

The snowy roads of St. Paul were too dangerous Wednesday night for the shuttle buses that normally take unhoused people to warming spaces.

Instead, the spaces came to them.

The Catholic Charities St. Paul Opportunity Center typically offers services during the day, but Ramsey County arranged for extra staffing to keep it open as a warming space all night.

"We made the decision to do that because a lot of our residents that are there during the day that we transport to the warming spaces would not have to leave, said Kimberly Cleminson, the Ramsey County Housing Stability Department deputy director.

Jen Kissling spent her day inside the center, trying to spread people out as it filled to the brim.

They had to get creative to make sure everyone can still come to get a shower, a cup of coffee, and three meals a day.

"We don’t have an option to say to 250 people ‘we have nothing for you for breakfast.’ So they have prepared many bag meals for breakfast tomorrow in case staff take a little bit longer to get in or can’t make it in," she said.

Some staffers stayed the night at the center or somewhere nearby to make sure they could get to work.

The doors stayed open at the Union Gospel Mission warming space as well, which they’ve done all winter with help from the county.

They hoped to have enough space for a bigger-than-usual crowd and might have folks sleeping on yoga mats.

CEO Pam Stegora Axberg sees the storms as an opportunity inside of adversity.

She says not everyone is ready to take the first step and seek out help, but the bad weather could drive them to the mission and expose them to social services.

"After they learn a little bit more about what we offer, maybe the next morning they’ll come have a hot breakfast," she said. "And then maybe they’ll say ‘Maybe I’ll go meet a social worker and find out about other options for housing or how to get connected with job and employment.'"

The county’s youth and family shelter also stayed open, but the warming space in Phalen did not.

Sheriff’s deputies planned to check out that area and if people were out there, the deputies could drive them into central St. Paul for the night.