HIBBING — An Arctic blast is bringing frigid temperatures and sub-zero lows.
On Monday morning, the National Weather Service released a Winter Storm Warning that forecasted “heavy snow, gusty winds and hazardous travel conditions” across the northern regions of Minnesota and Wisconsin.
In cities on the Iron Range, temperatures were expected to drop down to below 11 degrees on Monday night, with northwest winds of 5 to 10 mph, the NWS said. The severity of the threat was expected to be at its worst on Tuesday night in Hibbing, as forecasters predicted actual temperatures in the minus double digits and wind chill readings as low as minus 20 and 30.
As temperatures plunged to levels colder than parts of Antarctica, Gena Bossert, the director of the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Behavioral Health Division wrote a statement “reminding people that emergency warming site options are available on the Iron Range for people experiencing homelessness.”
County officials promoted “the first option” as Bill’s House, a 12-bed shelter operated under the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency located at 210 3rd St. N. in Virginia, the statement read. If the shelter is full, the AEOA has six additional sites ready for use in the area.
Last month, the St. Louis County Board approved $75,000 for emergency warming centers to be used any time the overnight temperatures drop to 32 degrees or colder. About half of that amount was directed for use in the northern part of the county.
The AEOA and the author of the St. Louis County statement did not return calls as of press time.
Cold winter temperatures are not new for those without homes on the Iron Range and cities here have had shelter options available. But recent studies show an increased number of people facing homelessness, hence the need for additional warming shelters.
Earlier this year, the county released figures showing that its homeless population rose nearly 19 percent since 2015, mirroring a statewide increase, according to a report published by the St. Paul-based non-profit Wilder Research.
On one day in October 2018, volunteers counted 760 people who were homeless countywide, with at least 171 living in transitional housing, 152 in emergency shelters and 47 in domestic violence shelters, according to the report. There were 151 children in 257 homeless families. About 375 of the 503 people without families were between the ages of 25 and 54.
“We are very concerned about the trends that rural homelessness is up, which I think people tend to forget about,” Stephanie Nelson-Dusek, research scientist for Wilder Research, told the Hibbing Daily Tribune when the report was released. “Rural Minnesota or rural anywhere is more susceptible if you’re precariously housed. And we are finding that people are doubling — living in other people’s homes — and not in formal shelter settings.”
At the time, the Wilder Research study did not include counts of homelessness on American Indian Reservations, such as the Bois Forte Reservation located north of Hibbing.
Stacy Radosevich, planner with the Homeless Programs for the St. Louis County Department of Health and Human Services, previously said the number of homeless people in the region had increased due to a variety of reasons. “We don’t have affordable housing for the number of people that need it,” she said then. “We’re seeing an increase in rent and deposit costs and so that just makes it harder for people to find and maintain housing.”
In recent years, county officials have made strides to combat homelessness by creating a coordinated entry system several years ago in which individuals and families experiencing homelessness or possible eviction can dial 211 and ask for housing prescreens.
This past January, the County Board released $650,000 in funding for emergency shelter units in Duluth and across the Iron Range. The AEOA used the money to help about eight people escape Arctic temperatures and record-breaking wind chills between 45 and 60 below zero and find temporary comfort at shelter units or hotels in Hibbing.
Despite the efforts, officials counted only 17 shelter beds across the Iron Range where employees at the county Department’s Health and Human Services Homeless Programs have said there remains an increasing demand for beds and, more importantly, the need for affordable housing since units are merely temporarily solutions to a growing problem.
To learn more about Bill’s House, contact 218-741-2063.