St. Luke's, CHUM join forces to house homeless seniors in Duluth

A former hotel will be converted to an apartment building.

St. Luke's is acquiring the Duluth Inn and in collaboration with CHUM will use it to house seniors who otherwise likely would experience homelessness. The building, pictured here in March 2021, will be renamed the St. Francis Apartments. Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

It may seem odd that St. Luke’s is getting into the housing business.

But the well-known Duluth-based health care provider announced Wednesday it will acquire the Duluth Inn at 131 W. Second St. and convert it into housing for seniors experiencing homelessness.

“We know that stable housing is foundational to good health,” said Dr. Nick Van Deelen, St. Luke’s co-president/CEO and chief medical officer.

CHUM began leasing the first floor of the Duluth Inn last year, where it currently provides housing for 22 seniors who would otherwise have no home. With St. Luke’s acquisition of the property, that number will nearly double to 43 units.

PREVIOUSLY: Downtown Duluth Inn to be converted to housing for the homeless CHUM is buying the Downtown Duluth Inn, located blocks from its emergency shelter. The motel has been in use during the pandemic to quarantine elderly people and those with underlying health conditions.
During a news conference at the former motel now renamed the St. Francis Apartments, John Cole, CHUM’s executive director, said: “We came to this place in 2020, when we needed somewhere to house those persons in our shelter who were most vulnerable — the elderly, those with underlying health conditions and the immunocompromised.


“We used the first level of this inn to do so, and those who were fortunate to be located here have been able to safely survive the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cole said.

Tim Tolvman, a St. Francis resident, said: “CHUM gave me what I needed.” Tolvman said he was hospitalized with COVID-19 in December.

“I was homeless before that," he said. "So, then I went to the shelter, and they said I could stay here, and I’ve been here ever since. I was a victim of circumstance. I think most people who are homeless are victims of events they can’t control.

“A society is judged and evaluated by how well it looks after its elderly, the poor and the homeless. And CHUM has for 48 years been working to provide basic necessities for sustainable lives and to organize for a just and compassionate community,” Cole said.

Van Deelen said the collaboration plays off St. Luke’s and CHUM’s respective strengths.

“As part of this partnership, St. Luke’s will be responsible for building maintenance, while CHUM brings a wealth of experience in helping to connect people with housing and providing supportive services. This is really a fantastic way that we can work together toward a healthier Duluth,” he said.

In putting together the venture, Van Deelen said St. Luke’s and CHUM have benefited greatly from the support of numerous other local organizations, including the city of Duluth, the Duluth Housing and Redevelopment Authority, St. Louis County and One Roof Community Housing.

He gave special credit to Lee Stuart, CHUM’s recently retired executive director, for bringing the project forward.


“I don’t know how many years ago it was that you said to me, Lee, ‘We need to think about housing as medicine,’” Van Deelen said.

Mayor Emily Larson said: “What the city of Duluth did is really just help with what I would consider some bridge funding, helping make sure that some of the rents were covered before some of the other big money came in. But that’s very small in comparison to what so many other organizations have done.”

The project will require about a $2.65 million investment, with many entities playing a role, Cole said, noting that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund also helped piece together the funding puzzle.

Herb Minke, chairman of St. Luke’s board of directors, explained why he and his colleagues leapt at the opportunity to work with CHUM.

“Housing insecurity is a major problem in our nation, and this type of project can do a lot to make a big difference," he said. "Caring for our community is more than just delivering health care in our clinics and hospitals. It means reaching out in the community and helping our neighbors meet their basic needs, because health starts in the home, and housing is health.”

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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