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Twin Cities homeless shelters hit by a 'double whammy' of cold weather and omicron surge

Ramsey County officials say shelters are testing more frequently as COVID-19 cases spike in the community.

ST PAUL, Minn. — With the Twin Cities metro feeling the brunt of winter and the new COVID-19 surge caused by the omicron variant, homeless shelters are battling the odds on two fronts.

"This is a bit of a double whammy," Tracy Berglund with Catholic Charities said.

Berglund is used to adding additional beds to local shelters when the weather gets cold, but this year - there's an added challenge.

"With the omicron variant there is concern with increases in COVID, and there already are, concerns of the variant in our shelters," she told KARE11.

Ramsey County officials say shelters are testing more frequently as COVID-19 cases spike in the community.

The county operates a COVID-19 respite care section as part of Bethesda Shelter. It's available to people experiencing homelessness who test positive at a county or partner shelter, hospital or those brought in by an outreach team.

Currently, 23 people are receiving respite care.

Bergland said Catholic Charities and other local organizations are also seeing an uptick in cases of people coming in to stay warm.

"We've seen an uptick in people were serving in Hennepin County and we're expanding to meet challenge," Bergland said. "All of the shelters are struggling with staff shortages, because folks are getting COVID-19, as well [as] our frontline workers."

Olmstead County officials recently announced a three-phase isolation plan for the county's homeless population affected by COVID-19.

“We need to take action to help protect those who are healthy as well as those who have tested positive for COVID-19,” Olmsted County Housing Director Dave Dunn said. “Making sure we have the resources available for some of our most vulnerable residents is important given the current climate.”

Now, Bergland says they're looking into options to expand capacity to help those experiencing homelessness find shelter during the cold winter months.

To find out more or how to help, visit Catholic Charities website here.

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