Warming center gets makeover in Lincoln Park
A permanent facility to shelter people during winter nights is scheduled to open in February.
DULUTH — Before renovation began on the Lincoln Park space that will become the city’s permanent warming center, Jill Keppers stood in front of the construction crew with a message about saving lives.
“I hope it meant something,” said Keppers, the executive director of the Housing and Redevelopment of Duluth. “It certainly doesn’t end homelessness, but we can save lives.”
The warming center is scheduled to open Feb. 1, replacing the current location in the Rainbow Senior Center in downtown Duluth.
“Our goal was always to try to be open for the whole season,” Keppers said before describing elevator and door supply chain issues. “Luckily, we still have the Rainbow Center. It has not interrupted people’s ability to have a place to stay warm and sleep at night.”
During a tour of the new space last week with the News Tribune, Keppers talked about how the Rainbow Center is experiencing capacity on a regular basis with 50 people a night utilizing the warming center.
“This place is a little bigger, has a little more capacity, but honestly capacity is almost based on how many staff CHUM has available,” Keppers said, referring to the Duluth shelter which operates the warming center. “I don’t know that they could even take more people with the added capacity.”
The warming center is in its fourth season and the Lincoln Park location figures to be its last iteration for a while. Funding came out of federal COVID-19 relief received by the city of Duluth in the form of a $487,000 Emergency Solutions Grant. Use of the grant triggered a 10-year guarantee that the renovated facility will remain a warming center, Keppers explained.
During the tour of the 5,500 square feet of space, Keppers revealed new laminate flooring, wide-open spaces where people can put down a sleeping mat provided by CHUM, and one of the most prized additions to the city’s homelessness crisis: shower facilities. The new center features a series of showers, including accessible ones, the first permanent hygiene facilities for use in the city by people experiencing homelessness. Last year, Damiano Center provided a temporary trailer on a trial basis that wasn’t feasible for use in the winter, Keepers said.
“When we did this, one of the things that was defined as a need was hygiene facilities,” Keppers said.
The showers, like the center, will only be available evenings and overnights, and CHUM staff will have key controls of the facilities, so they can monitor and prevent unwanted behavior.
John Cole is the executive director of CHUM. He recently led a group of civic and business leaders on a tour of homeless solutions in the Twin Cities. It was a tour focused on more permanent-minded solutions, such as tiny home communities, than the warming center offers.
“The new warming center location increases our ability to respond to the dire needs of the unsheltered homeless population,” Cole said. “We are excited to be able to do so, but it requires increased staffing and resources.”
Cole noted collaborations with other service providers could help take advantage of the larger opportunity, and noted financial support from the community continued to be a necessity.
Asked how the Lincoln Park Center, which faces West Third Street between the HRA's Midtowne Manor towers, was identified to take over as the city’s warming center, Keppers called it an underutilized space.
“There were some art classes that went on here, and there might have been bingo once in a while, but it really was an underutilized space,” she said.
The warming center features new sprinkler and heating systems, and a coffee nook. An adjacent laundry room will be used to provide fresh bath towels to the people who use the facility.
Fully up-to-code as a shelter, the warming center won’t be providing food or maintaining daylight or summer hours. In the summer, the space will be used for other community needs such as YMCA youth programming, Keppers suggested.
The brief history of the warming center has seen it bounce from the Spirit Valley neighborhood in West Duluth, to the East Hillside's Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, and now the Rainbow Center.
The Lincoln Park Center offers an end to annual frustrations about where to locate the shelter, which no longer features temperature limits on when it opens. Rather, it's open throughout the winter.
“We couldn’t keep scrambling year after year to figure out what to do,” Keppers said. “I’m thrilled with this space. I’m really happy with it.”
This story was updated at 12:01 p.m. Jan. 17 to correct a street name. It was originally posted at 2 p.m. Jan. 16. The News Tribune regrets the error.