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Details announced for warming center in West Duluth; ministry plans shelter in Lincoln Park

City Center West in West Duluth will be used as an emergency warming shelter on the coldest nights of the season. file / News Tribune

As a government-nonprofit partnership prepares to open an emergency overnight warming center in West Duluth as early as this week, a faith-based group plans to open a second shelter by Feb. 1.

Walking Victorious, a Superior-based ministry, will open a four-bedroom home in the Lincoln Park neighborhood as a daytime shelter that also will be open overnight in cold conditions, said Jack Swonger, community outreach pastor for the nonprofit.

"We have wonderful community support on both sides of the bridge," Swonger said. "We have the house now, but now we're just putting together the volunteers."

Known as Esther House, the shelter will be modeled after the same ministry's Ruth House in Superior. The latter opened as a drop-in center on Dec. 1 and added overnight hours on cold nights on Jan. 1.

Ruth House, 1901 N. 12th St., is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on nights when the temperature is 19 or lower. That means it has been open most nights this month, Swonger said. Its capacity is 10, but sitting room would be found for more people if necessary. So far, it has housed four people most nights and as many as seven.

Esther House will have room to accommodate 15 at night, Swonger said, with the same guidelines as Ruth House. He declined to disclose the specific location until it's ready to be opened.

Meanwhile, a nighttime warming center at Duluth's City Center West, 5830 Grand Ave., could be open later this week if conditions warrant, said Keith Hamre, the city's director of planning and economic development.

That means anticipated temperatures of zero or lower, said City Council President Noah Hobbs, who has been actively involved in the process.

Based on current forecasts, there ought to be ample opportunity to try out the shelter, with frequent subzero temperatures predicted over the next 10 days.

If the center is to be open as a warming center, that will be announced no later than 5 p.m. the day before, Hobbs said. Its hours will be 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m., allowing time for cleanup before its 9 a.m. reopening as the Evergreen Center for senior citizens.

The warming center is a cooperative project among St. Louis County, which provided funding; the city, which is providing the building; and CHUM, the ministry that is providing staffing.

Lee Stuart, CHUM director, said two paid staff members will be present every night the shelter is open, and at least one volunteer will help with setup and cleanup.

There won't be cots or bedding, Hamre said. The building isn't designed for overnight habitation, he explained.

"We're going to politely keep people awake to the best of our ability," Stuart added. "The rule is no sleeping."

The capacity has been placed at 45, but CHUM would notify city officials if it reaches half of that, Stuart said.

But the best guess is that between 5 and 20 people will take advantage of the center, she added.

The number of homeless and unsheltered people is estimated at between 125 and 200, Hamre said.

CHUM's overnight drop-in shelter downtown has a capacity of 80 but is usually filled beyond that, Stuart said.

All of those involved in the effort emphasized that it's a pilot project that may need some tweaking.

"We intend to try to support CHUM to make this successful," said Adam Fulton, manager of Duluth's community planning division. "I think that's why we plan to be very intentional the first couple of nights this is open. Because if there are pitfalls we want to identify them right away and figure out how to make them right."