Catholic Charities, Pathways 4 Youth meet needs during extreme cold

Minnesotans are accustomed to cold winter weather, but extreme low temperatures and life-threatening wind chills throughout the state have made it even harder for people already struggling.

Two St. Cloud organizations are among those working to keep people warm and safe during the current cold spell.

The emergency services programs staffed by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud are open and serving those needing assistance. Some are people who wouldn’t normally seek help, but they are having trouble finding places to stay warm, keeping their heat on or keeping gas in their cars, said Ruth Hunstiger, director of community services for Catholic Charities.

“We are seeing people who need to be warm and who are in desperate need,” she said. “Many times, people can get by, but when it gets to be this cold, they can’t.”

The National Weather Service reported wind chills of 59 degrees below zero overnight Jan. 29-30 in St Cloud.

Pathways 4 Youth, which assists homeless youth in the St. Cloud area, is encouraging them to stay where they are already safe and warm. They are working with shelters to find places for those who aren’t.

“We don’t anticipate a large attendance in youth this evening because of that encouragement,” said Audra Cowin, Pathways 4 Youth community engagement manager.

If there is an emergency with a youth in need, there is a street outreach worker available to talk with them about emergency options, she said.

Ice forms on window in St. Cloud, where the wind chill dipped to 59 degrees below zero early Jan. 30. (Dianne Towalski / The Central Minnesota Catholic)

“Something that we also have been doing in these last couple of days to better support our youth is open our doors early,” she said. “We have opened our doors at 11 a.m. for the last two days in an effort to provide a warming station for youth who may be out in the cold.

“[Our volunteers] have been so gracious and willing to help out,” she said. “We couldn’t make steps in accomplishing our mission to providing pathways in ending youth homelessness without them.”

An outreach worker with Catholic Charities also is on the streets looking for youth who need a warm shelter, Hunstiger said. A number of businesses, restaurants and government offices have closed due to the cold, making it hard to find a place to get inside for a while. Those needing assistance are being given information about where to go, which businesses are homeless friendly and which are extending hours so they can warm up.

“We know where all the youth that we have in our [Support for Homeless Youth] program are and know that they are in a warm place,” Hunstiger said.

The places Catholic Charities has for people to sleep are full, so they are being directed to other places that have more room.

“We don’t have the capacity to have additional folks coming in, but we certainly have the resources and information for them so they can get to where they need to be,” Hunstiger said.

“We have a number of really good programs in the city, like Place of Hope that is open 24 hours a day,” she said.

Seniors who count on the Meals on Wheels senior dining program were given extra meals to keep in the freezer and heat up on the coldest days, Hunstiger said. The program relies heavily on volunteers, but program officials didn’t want them to be out in the extreme cold.

“Our staff has been amazing and our volunteers, as well,” she said. “That’s one thing we do in Minnesota, when it’s tough outside teams rally and we have people who will do the impossible to make sure that people in need get the services they need.”

In other weather-related news, the extreme temperatures prompted the Diocese of St. Cloud to close its offices on Jan. 29 and 30. Nearly every school district in the state closed as did some businesses. The U.S. Postal Service suspended mail deliver in Minnesota Jan. 30.

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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