Aid Groups for MN Homeless Brace for More Challenges

Mike Moen

DULUTH, Minn. – State government agencies have taken steps to protect Minnesotans who are homeless during the pandemic – but aid groups say they’re seeing growing challenges by the day, and more help is needed.

Nonprofits that help people living on the streets say many shelters were already at or near peak levels before the COVID-19 threat. Lee Stuart, executive director of the CHUM shelter in Duluth, describes the added danger when keeping people at safe distance as a struggle.

She says many are dealing with chronic health issues that make them more susceptible to the virus.

“If there’s an infection in shelter, it’s gonna go like wildfire,” says Stuart. “We’ll have a lot of people, who have contacted a lot people very vulnerable for contracting the infection, and probably having a worse outcome. ”

Stuart says her group is working with St. Louis County officials on a pathway toward isolation and quarantine for clients, but she says it will be very expensive and state assistance is necessary.

The latest package approved by the Legislature does include emergency funding for shelters. And counties such as Hennepin and Ramsey recently approved funding to identify quarantine centers for use.

In Olmsted County, part of the Mayo Civic Center is being used to house people and keep them separated.

Rhonda Otteson, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, says they would also like to see more rental assistance funding, to prevent more people from needing shelter.

“This funding is critically important, as thousands of Minnesotans have lost their jobs,” says Otteson. “By increasing funding for programs that assist with past-due rent and mortgage payments, we can stabilize individuals and families and prevent homelessness from occurring.”

Gov. Tim Walz recently signed an order barring evictions during the pandemic, but advocates say funding rental and mortgage assistance programs would be even more effective.