Ramsey County opens building to give safe space for homeless people experiencing COVID-19 symptoms

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A formerly vacant building has reopened in St. Paul to help those who struggle with homelessness during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mary Hall will now provide them a safe place to recover if they’re experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

“For those who live in group settings, it’s so important to socially distance and self-quarantine just like the rest of the population,” said Max Holdhusen, manager of Housing Stability for Ramsey County.

The building was originally a dormitory so each person who stays there will have their own room. There are 140 beds.

“It really separates them from the group settings and that can slow down community spread,” said Holdhusen.

Residents will be referred from Catholic Charities Higher Ground, Union Gospel Mission and Ramsey County Safe Space facilities.

“Residents will come in who have been referred from a shelter, who have been screened for temperature and other COVID symptoms,” said Holdhusen.

The county is partnering with Minnesota Community Care. The organization already provides health care to the homeless at a clinic by the Opportunity Center, across the street from Higher Ground.

Full COVID-19 Coverage

They will be assisting with the initial screening process, making sure each person meets criteria established by Ramsey County Public Health officials and the CDC.

They will also provide the doctors and nurses who will evaluate and monitor each person 24/7.

“There’s a lot of assessment being done of what does this look like, what it doesn’t look like based on clinical judgement,” said Helene Freint, the Healthcare for the Homeless program director.

“We won’t be doing widespread testing unless someone is at that critical level because there is just not enough test supply to go around. Again, it’s going to rely on the clinical assessment […] are they getting better or are they at that point where they would need to be transferred for more intensive care?” she said.

Each patient with symptoms is expected to stay at the facility for seven to 14 days.

“I mean, if you or I didn’t feel well we would just stay home, but if you are experiencing homelessness you can’t just stay home,” said Freint. “This is absolutely what is needed as a response.”

The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners approved $1.8 million for respite facilities on March 17.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, there aren’t any cases among the state’s homeless populations.

Still, Holdhusen said they are ready to expand if demand increases.

“[Mary Hall] can serve up to 140 people, we expect not to fill that right away so we’re kind of monitoring capacity,” he said. “If need be, we can open up a second facility, that second facility would be the Ramsey County Boys Totem Town site over on the east side of St. Paul.”