As we work to create a green, clean and safe downtown, we must confront head-on the problem of homelessness.
Homelessness is on the rise in Saint Paul and in cities across the country. Incomes have stagnated since the millennium while rents have skyrocketed. In Saint Paul’s current housing market, with a 2.4% vacancy rate, finding a place to live is difficult for everyone - and nearly impossible for those with a checkered rental history, a criminal background or mental illness.
As a result, we’re seeing a steep rise in “unsheltered” homelessness, in which people literally have nowhere to go. Ramsey County saw a 22% increase in unsheltered homeless people between 2016 and 2017, and more than 250 people are sleeping on Metro Transit trains each night. Despite the recent addition of Higher Ground Saint Paul, the need for shelter far exceeds the supply.
This situation is unsafe and inhumane for our most vulnerable residents. While all are welcome on our parks, trains, buses and skyways, no one should have to make these places their home.
A coalition of 15 government, business, nonprofit and philanthropic partners called “Outside-In” has come together to address the problem. Outside-In has hired full-time street outreach workers to help people find housing as soon as possible; created the Winter Safe Space - an emergency winter shelter for people otherwise sleeping on trains and in skyways, which will open on November 1; and successfully housed 94 of the top 150 users of shelter through a corollary effort called RUSH (Redirecting Users of Shelter to Housing).
Because homelessness is a regional problem, Outside-In is also working with leaders from the state, our neighboring counties and Metro Transit to develop a regional approach.
The problem of homelessness is complex and, unfortunately, there is no easy solution. But with the commitment of the Outside-In collaborative, and the concern and generosity of the Saint Paul community, we are headed in the right direction.