The Lincoln Center (warming center) on 630 Lincoln Ave S.E. in St. Cloud. Photo courtesy of the Homeless Helping Homeless organization
The organization Homeless Helping Homeless is an association of homeless and formerly homeless people. The service helps the homeless find food, shelter, job interviews, and more. The Lincoln Center is St. Cloud’s newest warming center. The shelter is open 24 hours and serves the homeless in cases of extreme weather conditions.
“Homeless helping Homeless started about two years ago by a group of homeless people who were staying at the Place of Hope,” said Harry Fleegel, Executive Director of Homeless Helping Homeless.
The building’s normal capacity is about 20; however, when temperature dropped below zero in February they had to bring in more people temporarily and then place them into motels. Homeless Helping Homeless also checks with other shelters in St. Cloud to see if they have vacancies.
Back in February, a group of students from St. Cloud State University created a GoFundMe page to raise money to put two new showers into the warming center. Ayan Muhumed, Jordan Poepping, and a group of social work students at St. Cloud State organized the GoFundMe page. Currently the fundraiser has raised almost $7,000. The initial goal was $5,000, but the page is still active to pay for other needs at the shelter.
During the start of the pandemic, gyms that provided free showers to the homeless community closed. Most homeless people only had the option of using truck stop showers, which cost around eight dollars per shower. Fleegel said that they talked to the landlord of the warming center and came to an agreement so that they could put in two showers. One regular shower and one handicap shower will be installed.
“We’re eternally grateful not just to those two students, but to all of the students at St. Cloud State University who contributed to this GoFundMe,” said Fleegel.
The showers will enable members of the homeless community to be comfortable and look their best when applying for jobs and going to interviews for housing.
“Some of them come into the center after being outside for two weeks without having a chance to cleanup,” said Fleegel. “Being clean is a part of having a dignified life.”
Right now the warming center uses miniature refrigerators for refrigerating food and drinks in the shelter. The shelter plans to use some of the extra money received from the GoFundMe page to pay for better refrigeration.
Fleegel said that the need for temporary shelter is so intense that the shelter has been at full capacity almost every day. The city of St. Cloud sponsored a motel program for St. Cloud’s homeless community that expired April 3, 2020, so more homeless people are now without a place to stay.
The warming center is a day center, so during the summer the shelter is only supposed to be open until eight at night. However, because of the high need of shelter for the homeless, Fleegel said that they want the warming center to be able to stay open during the nighttime in the summer. To do this, Homeless Helping Homeless would have to abide by St. Cloud city codes. So, that would mean using some of the extra money that was fundraised to install sprinklers, alarms, or other changes to the shelter in order to meet the city codes.
There’s many ways to help out St. Cloud’s warming center. People can donate items such as men’s pants and underwear. The shelter also needs snack food suitable to be put into backpacks, so nothing that will spoil. This includes food and drink items such as chips, granola bars, bottled water, and more. Tents, sleeping bags, and tarps are also helpful for the homeless community staying outside as the weather gets warmer.
If anyone is looking to lend a hand, the warming center is always in need of volunteers. The shelter needs people to run the lunch counter, to help with cleaning, laundry, and to sort donations.
“It is important for every person to not be judgmental and to care for one another,” said Fleegel. “As a community, we need to treat everybody with dignity and respect. . . . We need to always treat other people with empathy. . . How can I not just help them, but partner with them to help make their life better?”