Homeless camps to close
The push to close homeless encampments and relocate people goes on this month. St. Paul and Ramsey County officials are trying to get the homeless into shelter and out of the cold. Eight of the city’s 81 active encampments began closing in mid-December. The area encampments include state-owned land at Interstate 94 and Snelling Avenues, Iris Park and Hamline Park.
The scramble for shelter space is ongoing as homelessness reaches crisis proportions. Other shelters are opening or on the drawing boards, including the former Bethesda Hospital and a vacant Luther Seminary dormitory in St. Anthony Park neighborhood. But with year-round shelters full, the need to find space continues.
The St. Paul Department of Parks and Recreation recently opened the Harriet Island Pavilion and the Duluth and Case Recreation Center as interim shelters. People can stay there before moving to other shelters. Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hahm describes the situation as a public safety as well as a public health crisis.
By mid-December, the city had about 319 people living in 81 encampments. City and county staff and staff from social services agencies are working to find resources for everyone. “Each person needs their own solution,” said Deputy Mayor Jamie Tincher. Options include hotel programs, shelters for people who have COVID-19 or who need other services.
“We’re working in unprecedented ways with our stakeholders,” said Council President Amy Brendmoen.
The move of people to shelters has met pushback from some advocacy groups for the homeless. Several groups have sprung up in the area, to provide food and supplies to the camps. Advocates contend that some people are afraid of or distrust government and social service agencies, and that they see encampments as a viable option. Tincher and some elected officials counter that everyone needs a safe, dignified place to live.
The eight encampments were chosen for action because of potential fire hazards, said Tincher. The Kellogg Mall Park encampment was cleared December 21, but not before the site’s third fire in several weeks. The December 18 fire destroyed seven tents, according to the St. Paul Fire Department. Multiple propane tanks and cylinders of varying sizes were involved in the fire, which is presumed to be accidental. No one was injured.
One challenge city and county officials have is that members of the public drop off firewood and propane tanks to keep people warm, often in response to pleas on social media. “We’re asking the community not to provide propane tanks or heating materials,” Tincher said.
No to crosswalk, yes to lights
Capital projects in Frogtown and South St. Anthony Park made the cut in the 2021 Long-Range Capital Improvement budget (CIB), but other neighborhoods ere shut out. The St. Paul City Council in December approved the 2021 neighborhood-focused project requests.
The neighborhood projects split $1 million for 2021.
Safety improvements for the North End’s Lewis Park was the top-ranked project citywide. Lighting improvements at Charles and Rice in Frogtown ranked second, with a larger scale lighting project for Charles-Arundel coming in fourth. Speed humps on Charles ranked ninth, and pedestrian improvements on Raymond near Seal Hi-Rise ranked 10th
But about 30 projects failed to make the cut, including a crosswalk for the Como by the Lake apartments, Como Park kiosk and trails, safety improvements around Como Lake, filling of a sidewalk gap on Concordia Avenue, signage and wayfinding measures near Northwest Como Recreation Center, improved lighting along Fairview Ave. beneath Interstate 94, a “Como Bark” dog park, bike-pedestrian improvements along Gilbert Street, and a Nordic ski loop at Como Park.
Wine store ordinance corked
A proposal to change the distance requirement between wine-only shops and off-sale liquor stores has been laid over until Jan. 27.
The ordinance change is led by council member Jane Prince, in response to a constituent request from a Dayton’s Bluff restaurant that wishes to open a wine shop. The owner of the Yoerg Brewing Company wishes to open the Vin de Pays wine shop next to his brewery/restaurant, saying it is a means of economic survival. But the shop wouldn’t meet distance requirements from other East Side liquor stores.
The ordinance change would allow wine-only shops to operate within one-quarter mile of off-sale liquor stores. The current distance requirement between all such shops is one-half mile.
The measure has support from the city’s Business review Council and several district councils and small business associations. But it is opposed by off-sale liquor store owners and the Minnesota License Beverage Association.