Increasing Homelessness Overwhelms St. Paul Shelter

Updated: 05/02/2013 8:30 PM By: Beth McDonough

Homelessness is a growing problem in the Twin Cities. Wilder Research says it's grown 25 percent since 2006.

That's why St. Paul is launching a new strategy to help handle it. Community leaders gathered at the Dorothy Day Center to hear about a new task force.  They'll re-evaluate how the center can get people out of poverty and if the building has outgrown its location.

One night this week, the facility had to turn away people.  That's why folks get in line early, to secure a small spot on the floor. Despite the constant overcrowding, Christopher Bowe knows it's better inside, than sleeping outside, "it gets very cramped at times."

He would know, he sets out bed mats, hands out linens at night.  He used to know everybody's name, but now can't keep up.

People with mental issues or addiction, and increasingly the center says, people who unexpectedly ended up here because of the recession, foreclosure and housing crisis like Cynthia Toupal, "because it's so crowded you have to lay on one side for the night, your body is going numb all night and you have to deal with it."

Personal space is in short supply, just ask Ezra Mattison, "the only privacy is when you take a shower, that's the only privacy."

"A lot of clients have mental health concerns, to be overcrowded can feel uncomfortable, increase anxiety," says Wendy Boppert.  The center says they're seeing more younger and older folks, and women leaving abusive homes than ever before.  The shelter cares for 80 percent of all of Ramsey County's homeless. It speaks to the exploding need to help people from sundown to sun up. 

A shelter is a place Mattison never thought he'd need.  He doesn't worry the shelter will go away, but instead, where should it go, "it's a blessing, I don't know what I'd be doing if I wasn't here."

It costs about $2.5 million a year to run the center.  Catholic Charities funds 2/3 of that.  The new task force will look into more funding sources, a possible new location and creating more access to mental health services and job training.