Our homeless neighbors are particularly vulnerable this time of year. What can you do if you see a neighbor panhandling on the street, or cold and in obvious need of help? Charitable, government and community service providers suggest that rather than offering handouts, we contribute money, supplies or volunteer support. These are marvelous, worthwhile and effective ways to make a difference. I struggle with my own sense of guilt and privilege each time I am approached or otherwise encounter a person asking for my help. Though I will sometimes offer the cash from my pocket, I have decided the better path is to offer the possibility of connecting the individual to resources toward stability and self-sufficiency.
I will often approach a person holding a cardboard sign and ask if they have a place to sleep at night and if they have access to regular meals. More often than not they are already aware of and participating in some or many of the services available to them. They might shelter at Higher Ground (Dorothy Day) or Union Gospel Mission or live in permanent supportive housing. Many of them have a very limited income that covers the cost of shelter and a few very basic needs but without steady employment and income, find themselves in need of money for incidentals or an extra expense or indulgence. Though they might have access to shelter and food they find themselves with little to do and nowhere to go during the daytime hours.
If you feel you want to help but are averse to giving a handout, educate yourself about the available resources and how a person in need can begin to gain access. You can then create small information packets or envelopes with a brief and helpful tip sheet, include a Metro Transit Go To card preloaded with transit money. You can include gift certificates for Subway, Mickey’s, Dunn Brothers and/or thrift shops or drug stores such as Walgreen’s where the individual in need can do their own shopping.
If you want either a little or a lot of information about available services it is easy to do research from your phone, tablet or computer. A simple Google search of “homeless services in St. Paul and Ramsey County” will provide a starting place. It can be both overwhelming and reassuring to realize so much is available and a lot is being done to help. Sometimes that first contact or pointing in the right direction can put a person on the path to critical services that provide a safety net toward ultimate stabilization and self-sufficiency. By educating yourself about access to services you can easily begin to serve as an advocate for people in need. The following contact information can get you started and can provide access for those in need of help.
• First Call for Help: 2-1-1 United Way. Website: 211unitedway.org.
• Ramsey County Homeless Services: ramseycounty.us/residents/assistance-support/ assistance/housing-services-support. Ramsey County Government Center East Building, 160 E. Kellogg Blvd., 651-266-8500.
• The Listening House: 464 Maria Ave., St. Paul; 651-227-5911. Day services, referrals available: listeninghouse.org. Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, 9 am-4:15pm. Wednesday and Friday 9am–11:30am. [Bus routes: 74K 7th St/Edgewater & 63K E 3rd St/Lower Afton/Via Sunray.]
• Mary Hall: 183 Old Sixth St, St. Paul. Day services and referrals are available through Dorothy Day (during construction). Website: cctwincities.org/locations/dorothy-day-center/. [Bus routes: Same as above.]
• Day services and computer access: Available nearby at Keystone Community Centers, St. Paul Public Library at West 7th Community Center; George Latimer Library (downtown); Rondo on University; Merriam Park Branch on Marshall and Fairview.
• Transportation help to needed resources: Visit Metro Transit at metrotransit.org/Planner/ PlannerResult.aspx.
• Go To bus and transit cards are available nearby at all three Mississippi Market locations, Metro Transit Center at US Bank Center, Skyway and Unbank at 1098 University Avenue.
• Heading Home Ramsey: for information about services for poor and homeless people, headinghomeramsey.org.
• Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless: mnhomelesscoalition.org.
• United States Interagency on Homelessness: usich.gov