Staying warm in extreme cold 

Photo by Henry Pan

With winter comes cold, unsurprisingly. But this year the solstice brought snowfall at colder-than-normal temperatures, along with strong winds lasting through Christmas Eve. At the same time, local government agencies are struggling to keep people warm. 

As of Friday afternoon, temperatures hovered just below 10 below zero with winds at 14 miles per hour. Although temperatures Friday are expected to rise, winds are anticipated to blow faster. A wind chill warning is in effect until noon on Christmas Eve, concurrent with a winter storm warning which is in effect until the morning of Christmas Eve. 

The chilly conditions are a result of a front of cold air sweeping down from the Arctic. It’s not just affecting the Twin Cities; it is also affecting the Great Plains, the Pacific Northwest, and the Great Lakes regions and is expected to drop temperatures east of the Rockies to as far south as Florida. It’s unclear if the warming Arctic caused by climate change is contributing to this. Temperatures should return to seasonal normals, hovering around freezing, after Christmas.

Warming spaces are available, but limited

Meanwhile, the region has few options available for unsheltered people who need to stay warm, and most of those options are only available during the day. 

In Hennepin County, all of its public buildings and libraries serve as warming spaces. However, they have limited hours. Hennepin County libraries close at 5 pm on Fridays and will be closed this weekend for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. 

The Hennepin County Government Center is open from 6 am to 6 pm weekdays. Places such as Catholic Charities at 17th and Chicago, Peace House Community at 18th and Portland, Hope Avenue Twin Cities at 1229 Logan in North Minneapolis, and the Bridge For Youth at 22nd St just west of Hennepin Avenue, are open during the day and have activities, warm drinks, and clothing. Learn more at hennepin.us/STAYWARM.

The only overnight walk-in warming space in Hennepin County is at the Anishinabe Wakiagun at 1600 E. 19th St, one block off of Franklin Ave., behind the Native American Community Center. It is open seven days a week from 7 am to 7 pm and has recliners for people to rest in. It is close to the Franklin and Bloomington stop for Routes 2, 9, 14, and 67, and up the hill from the Franklin Avenue light rail station.

Ramsey County has three overnight warming spaces that are open at 9:30 pm. Although the website says they close at 6:30 am, some warming spaces will stay open until 8:30 am to allow people to stay warm. Adult overnight warming spaces are located at Union Gospel Mission at 435 University Ave. E. in St. Paul, which closes at 6:30 am, as well as the Phalen Activity Center, which closes at 8:30 am. 

Shuttles to these two locations are available from the Safe Space Shelter at 160 E. Kellogg and from the Catholic Charities St. Paul Opportunity Center at 422 Dorothy Day Place. Both locations are also accessible by Metro Transit’s Route 64 bus.

The third Ramsey County overnight warming space is for families only. It is located at Newell Park, 900 Fairview Ave. N. in St. Paul. Shuttles to Newell Park are available from Maplewood Mall and Union Depot. It is also accessible from Metro Transit’s Route 67 bus. Visit the Ramsey County website for more information.

In Greater Minnesota: 

  • Duluth has two overnight warming centers: one at the Lincoln Park Senior Center at 2014 W. 3rd St., the other at the CHUM Drop-In Center at 125 N. 1st Ave. W. 
  • Rochester: Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota provides an overnight warming space at 200 4th St. S.E. downtown. 
  • St. Cloud: Lincoln Warming Center, 630 Lincoln Ave. S.E. homelesshelpinghomeless.org/lincoln-center

Take transit as a last resort

For years, Metro Transit has discouraged people from using their vehicles and transit centers as shelters because its facilities are inadequately equipped. But many people still prefer the bus to shelters for safety reasons. Rochester buses are free until Saturday, and although Metro Transit says they do not waive fares, they may let you ride without fares if you need to get to a warm place.

If you must ride the bus to stay warm, follow these tips:

  • Get real-time arrival information. For all Metro Transit routes, text the one-to-five-digit number located on the bottom left of a bus stop sign to 50934 to receive real-time information on when the next bus will arrive. Transit stations also have real-time information displays.  
  • Download the Pantograph app (for advanced users). The app tracks every single bus in the metro area and allows users to review schedules associated with the bus for the day. 
  • Do not ride the buses leaving 7th and Nicollet or Downtown St. Paul after midnight if you’re relying on transit for shelter. Most of these buses will return to their home garages once they are done with their trips for the night. The driver may kick you off at the end of the route or may drive you close to where their garages are. Either way, you may end up stranded with no warm place to go. 
  • Do ride the route that is closest to what they have for 24-hour service. The eastbound 3A bus departing Washington and Marquette after 1 am arrives at Union Depot around 2 am, allowing people to transfer to the 54 that leaves at 3 am. 
  • If you are riding to a specific destination, you can get off anywhere closest to it. Metro Transit has a discrete policy allowing drivers to let riders off between stops if they feel confident in doing so. It is unclear if this policy applies to the agency’s rapid bus routes like the D Line, as well as limited stop or express routes. 

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