ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — For the last two winters, Ramsey County’s Winter Safe Space temporary emergency shelter has operated out of what used to be a detox center in St. Paul.

The problem of homelessness isn’t limited to a specific season, though.

“Homelessness is growing in Ramsey County. We see an increased rise in the amount of people living unsheltered, both adults and families,” said the County’s Manager of Housing Stability Max Holdhusen.

That’s why the county is looking to expand the 64-bed shelter to operate year-round.

“There’s space both for men and women. There’s places to shower,” said Holdhusen.

A 2018 Wilder Research Minnesota Homeless Study showed nearly 2,000 people were experiencing homelessness in Ramsey County.

At 644 beds, there are less than half that number of beds available at Ramsey County shelters.

In recent years, some were forced to seek shelter in skyways or public transportation but in 2017, skyway hours were changed and in August, the Metro Transit Green Line stopped running overnight.

“I think that has definitely put pressure on the community to figure out, how do we find some real opportunities so that we don’t have to use transit and corridors and places like that for people who are just trying to get warm,” said Kizzy Downie, the CEO of Model Cities.

Model Cities is a non-profit that provides supportive housing, family support services and community development projects.

If approved, the agency will run the Safe Space, marking their first time operating a homeless shelter.

“This adds to the continuum of services that we are already providing,” said Downie.

The shelter will be low-barrier, meaning it will serve everybody, even those who are intoxicated or experiencing mental illness.

“You have to weigh that with how you manage the space, but at the same time, it’s called safe space. It has to be a place that feels welcoming and safe for everybody,” said Downie.

The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners will vote on the proposal at their meeting next Tuesday.

The agreement between the Board and Model Cities calls for the nonprofit to operate the overnight shelter from 10 p.m. to 9 a.m. for an amount not to exceed $590,000 annually.

Regardless of what the county board decides, the Safe Space will be opening for the winter by mid-November.

Mary McGuire

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