Duluth’s two warming centers for the homeless likely will soon be open every night of the winter, not just the coldest nights, thanks to a $114,000 grant from the state’s winter homeless initiative.
Lee Stuart, executive director of the faith-based agency CHUM, said Tuesday she hopes the transition will occur in about a week, or by Feb. 10 at the latest. They would remain open at night through April 15.
Currently, the two centers — at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church and in the Harmony Club at the old Lincoln Park School building — are only open as an overnight shelter when the temperature is expected to drop below 10 degrees. In a pilot project last winter at City Center West, the temperature had to be expected to drop below 0 degrees for it to be open.
Stuart has said she has reached out to the church, to the Harmony Club and to Sherman Associates — which owns the former school building — for their feedback on the expanded schedule.
The grant was the largest of six in Greater Minnesota that were released Friday, said Teddy Tschann, a spokesman for Gov. Tim Walz. All together, they totaled $383,000. In December, Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan announced a $4.82 million initiative “to bring Minnesotans without shelter inside” with money from public, corporate and nonprofit entities led by the St. Paul and Minnesota Foundation. Grant recipients announced at that time included the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Area in northern Minnesota, which had a plan to place 25 people in three rented homes and apartments.
CHUM didn’t get everything it asked for, Stuart said. She had requested more than $200,000 toward what she envisions as a second full-service homeless shelter, perhaps somewhere in the western neighborhoods of Duluth.
The existing CHUM shelter, she said, is overcrowded and was designed for short-term stays rather than the longer-term homeless population that tends to gravitate toward it now.
“When I came (in 2013) having 40 people at night was normal, and that felt crowded to me,” Stuart said. “The past couple of nights … we’ve had over 90.”
That includes people staying in the long-established shelter as well as the drop-in center that has been opened in recent months during the night, she said.
The $200,000-plus Stuart sought would have gone toward a $5 million project for a new shelter that she has outlined to city officials with state bonding money in mind. She envisions dorm-style housing for 40 to 50 people, which is similar to what CHUM currently offers downtown. But it also would have 40-50 “pay to stay” individual rooms, plus a wing for respite care for homeless individuals with medical needs, with care provided by the hospitals.
Currently, the former parsonage of First Covenant Church provides for that population as the Bob Tavani Medical Respite House. But as the News Tribune reported in July, it only has four beds, and guests must be able to navigate stairs. People needing its services have been turned away because it was full.
“What they have in the Twin Cities is 16 beds inside the … Higher Ground (Catholic Charities shelter) that is funded by the three medical systems down there,” Stuart said.
As for the warming centers, Gloria Dei has had an average of 33 people sign in and 22 stay for the entire night during the eight nights it has been open this month, according to data Stuart provided. The Lincoln Park warming center opened for the first time Jan. 16 and has only had a handful of people staying so far.
Stuart lauded the Duluth Transportation Authority, which has provided bus service between downtown and the warming centers, she said.