Update: 12:05 p.m.
The city of St. Paul plans to clear a large tent camp on Thursday as it continues to try to find places to stay as the weather deteriorates.
The nearly 80-person tented camp under Cathedral Hill stretches along a railing above Interstate 35E.
Ricardo Cervantes watched the camp grow for weeks. The head of St. Paul’s Department of Safety and Inspections said it was by far the largest encampment in town.
“We warned them that this is one of the camps that we are concerned about, there are health risks and also safety risks in terms of certain behaviors.
On Friday, Cervantes and St. Paul Deputy Mayor Jaime Tincher handed out snacks, letting people know the tents will soon be cleaned.
Tincher said last year that the city worked directly with at most 30 people at a time who were homeless and remained outside, trying to connect them with social workers and find them housing and support. Since COVID-19, the city has followed more than 10 times last year’s number, or 380 people across the city.
Officials believe more are sleeping outdoors as shelters cut off access to beds to comply with social distancing. Even before the pandemic, the city needed more affordable housing for people earning less than $30,000 a year.
A man visiting a friend’s tent took an apple from the deputy mayor.
The man, who said he would not give his name, spent a few months on the outside but now has a place nearby at Catholic Charities’ Higher Ground. He said he knows people who choose to stay on the outside.
“Half the people are here because there are no tours in either of these two buildings. [of Higher Ground] and being so close in a community, people come out together.
As of last week, there were enough shelter beds for everyone in the camp along I-35E. But some may simply move to other camps. The city will also provide transportation for anyone invited to leave.
There are no immediate plans to clear other encampments, the second largest of which has about 20 people. Many camps are small and counted even if there is only one tent.
Cervantes said the city and county of Ramsey used a total of $26 million in federal funds authorized by the CARES Act. The city hopes to create 100 additional shelter beds by November. He didn’t say where the beds would be.
Tincher said beyond giving people a place to sleep, the city aims to provide better mental and chemical health resources.
As city officials left, a man living in a tent said he had no plans to vacate his space by the deadline. He hoped that a social worker who had visited him would not lose sight of him. Her name was Elizabeth, and that was all he remembered.
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