Shelter Program Evolving to Serve More Partners

The latest Unsheltered Point-In-Time Count, conducted on July 24, 2019, revealed at least 732 individuals experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Hennepin County. With area shelters nearing capacity each night, there simply isn’t space for everyone who needs it. When beds are available, the “Three P’s,” partners, pets, and possessions, are recognized as three major barriers for people experiencing homelessness to access shelter.

Since St. Stephen’s Human Services began operating shelter at First Covenant Church in November of 2017, the six partner beds there have been the only spaces in our community where partners can stay together in emergency shelter. These six beds have been in high demand. Outreach teams continue to identify people experiencing homelessness who are unwilling to access shelter unless their partner can stay in the same space, and Adult Shelter Connect must route partners to other spaces that don’t accommodate this when the six beds at St. Stephen’s Shelter at First Covenant are full.

In response to this community need, we are beginning to shift the demographics for new reservations at St. Stephen’s Shelter at First Covenant. This change will not affect our work with the single adults who are currently staying at St. Stephen’s Shelter at First Covenant. We are continuing to serve our existing guests until they naturally exit shelter to housing or other locations. Beginning last week, as those transitions naturally occur, St. Stephen’s Shelter at First Covenant has started filling new openings with reservations for partners. We take a broad definition of “partner,” and are intentional about not using the word “couple.” It is not just romantic partners who will be eligible for these beds, but also partners defined by family relationships – including a parent and an adult child, or siblings.

Over the next few months, the balance of our population will shift more and more towards partners. Eventually, St. Stephen’s Shelter at First Covenant will serve exclusively partners, with up to 25 sets of partners experiencing homelessness having a safe place to shelter each night. 

We are proud to be a part of efforts to reduce barriers to shelter in Hennepin County. We look forward to serving more partners like Dennis and Judy:

Dennis and Judy were evicted when their rental property was sold by the landlord. They didn’t understand their legal rights as tenants or how to navigate the situation, and were already struggling to pay the rent. With no savings and no relatives to move in with, Dennis and Judy ended up on the streets.

 Extreme poverty meant that Judy could no longer afford her medication. She lived with a panic disorder that left her shaken with fear and heavily dependent upon Dennis to calm and comfort her. She was wary of people trying to help them. At night, the couple stayed warm by sleeping on the light-rail trains. Despite the daily stress of living outside, they found security in each other.

 When the weather became brutally cold, St. Stephen’s Street Outreach team was able to help Dennis and Judy meet basic needs to keep them as safe as possible outside. The team encouraged them to move inside to shelter.

 “I’m not leaving my partner,” Dennis told the Street Outreach team.

 St. Stephen’s Street Outreach team had several conversations with Dennis and Judy and finally, after more than a year on the streets, they decided to seek shelter indoors at First Covenant Shelter. With the support of staff, the next step will be housing.

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