Nonprofit offering 24/7 shelter hours to accommodate homeless as bitter cold grips Twin Cities

The brutal weather conditions in the metro are prompting Minneapolis-based YouthLink to expanded its shelter hours to 24/7.

“It’s very dangerous,” says Polly Sonsalla, an on-call youth advocate at the shelter. “It may be cold to us coming in and out of your car, your home, but imagine if you were outside for an extended period of time or just on the streets where you don’t have any shelter to go home to.”

Air temperatures were sub-zero Sunday night, with severe wind chills worsening the effects.

"I mean, they can be out there for less than 15 minutes and start to have frostbite,” said Heather Huseby, YouthLink’s executive director. “Places that youth used to hang out, in hallways and whatever, they’re not available or even outside, so they have nowhere.”

So when temperatures started dropping last week, shelter staffers made a decision. They would stay open around the clock, including weekends, to give young adults between 16 and 24 years old a chance to get a hot meal and a bed.

Daniel Escovar, 22, an aspiring musician from St. Paul, is among those staying at YouthLink.

“I’ve had times in my life where I was out on the street,” he said.

Metro area nonprofits, government agencies reaching out to those experiencing homelessness as bitter cold approaches

Escovar says there have been times that he’s ridden on a bus in the metro, simply to stay warm. One occasion he remembers in particular.

"This entire bus just broke me because everyone who was on that bus was homeless, like everyone,” he said. “And everyone on that bus was helping each other to stay strong, to try to keep their hope together."

YouthLink is now providing hotel rooms for 35 young adults, and 40 more are staying at the shelter’s North 12th Street location.

"Ultimately what we’re trying to do is make sure the kids— the youth, are safe,” Sonsalla explains. “And they’re out of the cold, and out of the dangerous elements."

There are COVID-19 precautions in place. Safe distancing, from dining areas to the sleeping quarters is enforced.

"Have to have their masks on,” Sonsalla said. “We automatically use some hand sanitizer and check their temperatures before we see them at the welcome center."

There are counseling services available, and even a clothing bank and food shelf for those returning to the street.

Young people have the option of taking a survival kit — coats, hats, socks, boots and gloves — when they leave.

“We can’t force them to stay, of course,” Sonsalla said. “But if they choose to go back out, let’s ensure they are protected and fully aware of the services offered at YouthLink.”

Escovar, for one, says he’s grateful to be able to stay inside.

"At night it would get very cold because it’s going to get chilly and you can’t even be out at this time,” he said.