Former Lowertown restaurant site transitions into day shelter to help those in need

Shelter from the cold

Shelter from the cold

For those without shelter in this latest Minnesota cold snap, having nowhere to get warm can be dangerous, even deadly.

“This time of year is the worst time of year for a number of reasons,” explains Molly Jalma, the Executive Director of Listening House, a St. Paul day shelter. “The weather alone is such a factor.”

Dan Richardson is among those who stopped by the facility Thursday to get a break from the bitter weather.

“Need the most help we can get right now,” he says. “Really rough out here when it’s cold out. When it’s cold out here, it’s cold.”

Listening House now serves between 150-200 people a day, from 12-8 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday.

The shelter hopes to expand its hours and facilities at some point in the future.

“We’re part of the eco-system of the care that goes into the residents here that have nothing,” Jalma says.

Ramsey County has seen a jump in the number of unsheltered people.

In 2018, 129 people were reported unsheltered.

Last year, there were nearly 370 people- a 185% increase.

“We are seeing many more people, and we’re seeing people at different levels of need,” Jalma says. “The shelters are at capacity. We’re seeing more new people than we usually do at this time of year.”

Listening House has been around since the early 1980s.

The new facility, funded through a $6 million public/private partnership, opened in December, in the old Red’s Savoy Pizza building in Lowertown.

Now, Listening House is serving food there three times a day for those in need.

“For folks who may not be able to access meals in other shelter spaces, we may be the only place where they can get a meal,” says Elyse Pennica, the Program Services Manager for Listening House. “So, it’s super-powerful to be able to provide that to people.”  

The facility says it served 500 people in November, and more than 700 in December.

Jalma says she expects that number to rise in January.

Anwar Willis says he’s one of the lucky visitors- he’s a place to stay for several years now- but declares there are many who don’t.

“Just getting out of the cold, period,” Willis notes. “Some people don’t have no place to stay. A lot of people staying in tents.”

At Listening House, clients can pick up mail, meet with counseling services, grab hats and gloves, and even receive vaccinations.

“They’re trying to get out of the situation they’re in,” Jalma explains. “In order to do that, they have to be able to use the phone, use a computer, meet with people, fill out paperwork, and that’s what we are.”

Keith Lattimore, the Director of Ramsey County Housing Stability, issued a statement in which he noted the county’s shift from one main warming space location to three additional warming spaces, allowing a separate space for women.

He says those spaces have seen an influx of people who need a place to warm up overnight, as many as 500 on average.

Jalma says Listening House can bridge the gap during the daylight hours.

“People need refuge during the day,” she says. “You just can’t tough it out, no matter how experienced you might be at being outside. It catches you off guard.”

Warming space information for Ramsey County can be found here: Winter Warming Spaces | Ramsey County

You can find additional information about housing and shelter related support here:  Housing Services & Support | Ramsey County