St. Paul helping more than 300 find warm shelter as cold approaches, fire risk increases

The city of St. Paul told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS there are more than 300 people living in homeless camps.

There is an urgent push to find shelter for those who need it as the cold weather starts and the risk of fire danger increases in the camps with the use of propane and wood fires becomes greater.

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The St. Paul Fire Department also conducted an assessment of eight homeless encampments throughout the city after more than a dozen fires were reported. The SPFD’s report outlines numerous fire hazards at each homeless encampment.

The SPFD report said since late November, the Kellogg Boulevard encampment, between Wabasha and Minnesota Streets, has been the scene of 15 fire calls and 25 medical calls, with multiple fire hazards. The Mounds Boulevard encampment, near East 7th Street, had five fire calls, 12 medical calls and nearly a half-dozen fire hazards listed.

SPFD Chief Butch Inks told KSTP the situation in the encampments is concerning and it also taxes his fire stations with the multiple calls that go out during a time of year when fire calls across the city usually rise.

“We’re concerned for all of the residents in the encampments and we’re equally concerned for our firefighters because any of these nylon tents, so close together, present a challenge,” said Inks. “Right now, with all these multiple fire hazards, you could have a terrible situation with high winds and then the close proximity of the tents really does create a potential death trap.”

Deputy St. Paul Mayor Jaime Tincher said the city recognizes the urgent need to help those who are unsheltered right now find a bed soon because the temperatures are expected to drop dangerously low and that’s why two emergency shelters have gone up in recent days.

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“We are doing everything we can to help people find warm, safe places to stay and we are hoping to do that by next Monday,” said Tincher. “Right now, it is not overstating it to say that with the extra strain of the COVID pandemic we are facing a crisis right now in the city with the number of unsheltered people who need assistance.”