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As cold weather sweeps in, state's homeless face early dangers

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The week's early winter cold spell means early danger for Minnesota's homeless population.

WCCO spoke with some metro homeless aid organizations about the weather, both of which spoke about the difficulties of having space available during a high-demand time of the year.

Gerry Lauer, the program manager at St. Paul's Dorothy Day Center, told WCCO they get about 250 people a night – a double digit percentage increase in the past few years.

Lauer and the center expected it – on the Sunday before the initial snowfall, they opened up the shelter's overflow space for the first time this November, KARE 11 reported.

In Minneapolis, Joseph Desenclos with the St. Stephen's Street Outreach team told WCCO there are about 120 people on their list of those without shelter. On the coldest of nights, usually 10-15 people try to "tough it out" all night, he told the station.

ABC 6 reports the Austin Salvation Army has received a "sharp increase" in requests for Thanksgiving baskets following the early onset of snow and cold weather.

Last winter, KSTP reported People Serving People in Minneapolis didn't have a night at capacity until December, during the first wave of polar conditions.

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Homeless in greater Minnesota

A shortage of space for the homeless isn't just a metro issue.

In Bemidji, the City Council and a local organization are discussing plans to help more homeless people as winter approaches, in the wake of a string of recent homeless deaths in the area.

In Rochester, the Dorothy Day House is battling a space shortage. It was originally built to hold less than 10 people, but the city is now dealing with an increasing homeless population and the house averages 19 people a night.

Those issues mirror a trend seen around the state.

There were roughly 10,214 homeless people in Minnesota in 2012 – a 6 percent increase from 2009, according to the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, which conducts a survey of the state’s homeless every three years.

The Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless reports that about 14,000 Minnesotans are homeless on any given night, and children and youths ages 21 and younger make up 46 percent of the homeless population.

Survey results showed the number of people who identified as homeless in non-reservation areas of the 12-county northwest region of Minnesota grew 170 percent from 2009 to 2012 – the total number of homeless people that year was 666.

The growing number of homeless people around the state has prompted many organizations to consider expansion or build new shelters.

The Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul, which is 32 years old, is planning to expand its space to serve more of the community.

Mary’s Place, a Sharing and Caring Hands facility near Target Field in Minneapolis, started construction this fall to expand its facility to serve more children and families in the area.

A list of homeless shelters in the state can be found here.

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