“As warming centers close for the season, the people who used them may return to sleeping outside, in cars, and in places not meant for human habitation,” Courtney Cochran, the coordinator of the county’s Continuum of Care Department, said in a news release.

In a recap of the winter season, Cochran reported that 82 individuals got emergency hotel vouchers in the winter to sleep in warming center beds in northern St. Louis County, and 566 people used emergency shelter at the Duluth Warming Center and Chum Drop-in Center.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, she confirmed there was an 18 percent increase in homeslessness from 2019 to 2020 in the county, and, after these past months, she anticipated new data will show another rise.

Lack of warming beds in northern St. Louis County

Back in March 2019, St. Paul-based non-profit Wilder Research released data showing that the St. Louis County’s homeless population jumped nearly 19 percent between 2015 and 2018. On one day in October 2018, 1,200 volunteers across the county and the state of Minnesota counted people living on the streets, emergency shelters, domestic violence shelters, transitional housing programs, encampments, hot-meal locations and other drop-in sites. In St. Louis County, volunteers counted 760 people who who experiencing homeslessness. At least 171 lived in transitional housing; 152 in emergency shelters; and 47 in domestic violence shelters. Another 390 were unsheltered.

In April 2020, the manager of homeless program manager at Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency, Angela Neal, told the Mesabi Tribune that there were limited shelter beds in the northern part of St. Louis County and limited options of procuring hotel rooms for people who are displaced. There were 12 beds located in Bill’s House in Virginia and two apartments and several scattered hotel units in Hibbing.

Around the same time, the St. Louis County Board passed a resolution to provide $1 million in funds to the homeless population amid the spread of the coronavirus in the form of extra meals and shelter placements. “We’ll do anything we can to keep the homeless population safe and healthy,” County Chair Mike Jugovich, of Chisholm, told the HDT at the time. “A lot of the funding has gone to use already. Now we’re working on formalizing commitments from hotels in the North to use in case there’s an overflow with shelters in place.”

Permanent Duluth shelter to open in fall 2021

In a recap of the winter season, county officials described how the Duluth Warming Center, managed by CHUM, held partnerships with Duluth HRA and the Loaves & Fishes Community, with additional support from the City of Duluth, St. Louis County, Duluth Transit Authority and the Federal CARES Act.

The center developed partnerships with Lake Superior Community Health Center and St. Louis County for vaccination clinics and healthcare access. About 32 people got fully vaccinated and 22 additional people received their first vaccination at the Rainbow Center location.

The warming center closed on March 31 but could be reactivated as needed in April based on the cold weather and snow conditions that could be dangerous for those living outside in the northeastern county.

Officials say a permanent warming center will open in Fall 2021 in Duluth’s Lincoln Park Community Center. That center location would come after years of work from housing advocates across the county and will be a collaborative effort of the Duluth HRA, CHUM, Loaves & Fishes, and St. Louis County. The new warming center could house 100 people at a time, and will offer showers, beds, towels and laundry facilities.

Donations needed

For now, there is an immediate need for donations of tents and sleeping bags. Donations can be dropped off at Human Development Center, CHUM, Damiano Center, Twin Ports American Indian Movement, and Loaves & Fishes in Duluth.

"Homelessness is not a choice, but giving is," said Jennifer Kuoppala, AEOA Bill’s House Shelter Manager. "Individuals from all across the Range made the choice to give. Whether it was in clothing, outdoor winter wear, household items, food, or monetary donations, the giving has been continuous. We, at AEOA, know that to end homelessness it takes the community and our community is hard at work to achieve that mission!”

If anyone needs assistance for food, paying housing bills or are in need of shelter, 2-1-1, 651-291-0211 or 1-800-543-7709 or Text ‘MNCOVID’ to 898211 and a certified community resource specialist will help to locate available resources.


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