Our View: Dropping temperatures raise awareness of need

01-06 Salva army cots ols.jpg
Cots were set up in a back room at the Salvation Army Tuesday night to provide shelter for those who might otherwise be homeless when temperatures and wind chills can be lethal outside

Coming in out of the cold isn't always an easy thing. As wind chills dipped beyond 25 degrees below zero on Monday night, a temporary night shelter at the Salvation Army in downtown Rochester saw one visitor.

Tuesday night would prove that more people needed a warm space to stay. Eleven showed up for a cot and the potential of some help. "It was more than we had anticipated," said Cindy Norgard, the Salvation Army's director of social services, who noted there was an obvious need to handle overflow from the city's only homeless shelter, Dorothy Day Hospitality House.

The temporary warm beds are the result of ongoing discussions among area organizations seeking to respond to a growing homeless population in Rochester. While Norgard said members of the collaborative effort had been focused on the need to move people into permanent housing, the last year has seen a new focus on taking care of some immediate needs, such as getting people indoors during severe weather.

As a result, the Salvation Army vowed to open its doors whenever a wind chill advisory was issued, meaning the wind chill is expected to be 25 below or less for at least three hours. "A wind chill advisory is pretty severe weather," Norgard said.

Shery Block, program supervisor of homeless services at Zumbro Valley Health Center, agreed. As a result of similar weather last year, Block noted local homeless residents faced severe frostbite. "We felt grateful that nothing worse than frostbite happened to our folks," she added.


But it wasn't just a warm place to stay that was provided this week. Volunteers from Salvation Army, Zumbro Valley Health Center, Dorothy Day Hospitality House and other organizations also worked to provide connections to various community services. "Everybody who is volunteering is working in the (social services) field," Block said, noting the severe weather provided a unique opportunity to help people.

With the added aid of donated equipment and donated food, the group also was able to help provide some meals for their overnight guests as well. Sean Rice, marketing director for Zumbro Valley Health Center, noted that support is just as important as temporary housing. "The housing is one aspect to work on for these individuals," he said, noting food and clothing is just as important.

That's why we're glad to see the collaboration continue. The group of community service advocates meets monthly to look at current needs and plan ways to address them. Block noted the needs are likely to grow as the city grows, especially with the size limitations of the Dorothy Day Hospitality House. "With the city growing, the resources at the shelter have not grown," she said.

With an all-volunteer staff, the 23-bed shelter at 703 First St. SW provides a remarkable service for the community's homeless population. It has been more active than ever in recent months, averaging 20 guests a night in the fall. Still, its limited size and lack of paid staff means not all needs can be met.

That's why the collaboration of different agencies is so important. Working together to identify needs and seek solutions, these advocates are making a difference. As discussions continue, hopefully more connections will be made that can lead to successes such as the one seen this week, which provided warmth for those who would have otherwise shivered in darkness.

Where that next success will come from isn't clear. "It's hard to say with any certainty what is next," Rice said.

Whatever is next, we expect it will continue to address immediate needs while also working toward more permanent solutions. We also expect the ongoing efforts will continue to need community support, whether it's dropping off food or clothing at a local organization or volunteering.

As was noted this week, those efforts pay off, whether it's getting 11 people out of the cold Tuesday night or helping one on Monday.


"Just even having one person there, it was worth it," Block said.

What To Read Next
Get Local