Help needed as warming shelters fill up during cooler weather |

Help needed as warming shelters fill up during cooler weather

Alejandra Palacios
Updated: January 27, 2021 07:02 PM
Created: January 27, 2021 05:31 PM

Northland homeless shelters are seeing more encampments throughout the community and shelters are also starting to fill up as people look for a warm place to stay safe.

Places like the Rainbow Warming Center, CHUM, and the Ruth House in Superior are doing everything they can to help. Today is the annual Point in Time Count, where all shelters across St. Louis County will be counting overnight guests to help better understand homelessness in the community.

"It's not a choice that we made or wanted. We are just dealing with it the best way we can. There's other people out there that are homeless that don't have as much as we have. We are lucky that we have a heater and stuff," said Sharon Norris, a veteran who is homeless in Duluth. She lives in a encampment she built with a friend in West Duluth.

Her encampment is one of many encampments seen across the Northland with more people experiencing homelessness than in recent years.

"They just don't have firewood and stuff so they're having a hard time keeping warm. A lot of these camps heat with propane if it's available but people don't always have the money to purchase it," said Deb Holman, the street outreach coordinator for CHUM and Human Development Center.

Norris has been living in the encampment for about eight months now. Thankfully, she is getting help from local shelters and will soon have a place to call home.

"MAC-V has helped. They helped get the voucher and now we have an apartment that we can move into on the 5th," said Norris.

"Back on an average day in the summer I could just sit down at my desk and write down 160 names of people living homeless. A lot of them are using the warming shelter now so that number reduced but there's still plenty of people outside in cars or in encampments or in tents," said Holman.

But for those that don't have a place to stay, local warming centers have been a safe haven during these times.

"We get about 15 to 20 people staying here on any given night. Now we're filling up again because of the cold weather but we keep moving forward," said Jack Swonger, the senior pastor for Walking Victorious and Ruth House in Superior. Another Ruth House recently opened in Burnett County.

Holman said the Rainbow Center has been seeing about 50 people a night while CHUM has seen about 80 people.

Shelters have been filling up fast during these weather conditions. It has been challenging for shelters like Ruth House.

"It's a real struggle sometimes, a real challenge to meet that need over here because we're a smaller community and there just really isn't a lot here. This is the only warming center that's open in Douglas County, this is the only soup kitchen that's open in Douglas County," said Swonger.

With some people not being able to access warming shelters or being out in the cold all day, this poses a big risk for hypothermia and frostbite. COVID-19 has also complicated finding somewhere to stay warm. That's why local shelters are emphasizing the need for more help and housing. 

"We still want housing that's the bottom line. People say more shelters but I say no more shelter. We need housing. We need appropriate housing to meet the need," said Holman.

Holman said they want support to place a number of yurts around town.

Donations of gas station gift cards, gloves, tents, cots, sleeping bags are needed at shelters.

Donations are need at CHUM and Ruth House. You can donate online or drop off donations.

CHUM: 102 West Second Street, Duluth. 218-720-6521

Ruth House: 632 Grand Avenue, Superior. 218-221-4636

The Rainbow Warming Center is located on 211 N 3rd Avenue East. It's open from 6 p.m. through 8 a.m.


Alejandra Palacios

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