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Article December 9th, 2021

Next City: St. Paul unveils app to help unsheltered residents get help

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In August of 2020, there were 380 unsheltered people in @cityofsaintpaul. Now there are 26. Find out how #TOPcities played a role. via @EmilyNonko and @NextCityOrg

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@cityofsaintpaul searched for ways to help its unhoused residents find support. Through #TOPcities, they've worked together to build an answer. via @EmilyNonko and @NextCityOrg

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During the pandemic, @cityofsaintpaul realized that its unsheltered population had no centralized way to find support services. Find out what happened next. #TOPCities via @EmilyNonko and @NextCityOrg

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In August of 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, the number of unsheltered people in Saint Paul, Minnesota, rose to 380. The seasonal high, previously, had been 26. “It was a whole new world,” says Travis Bistodeau, the city’s deputy director of the Department of Safety and Inspections. “Even when we were managing the 26, it felt like an unfunded mandate that we were doing."

The crisis forced the city into high gear to forge new partnerships and develop a comprehensive strategy for its unsheltered residents. One tool, which emerged as part of an 18-week “sprint” through the TOPcities program, is an app designed to address the current decentralized support system by providing a centralized platform for unsheltered residents to search and learn more about essential services.


There’s no user data on ShelterApp yet, but Saint Paul is seeing the impact of its more holistic approach to serving unsheltered residents, which includes intensive outreach and expanding the supportive services available. As of October, the city was aware of approximately 23 individuals sheltering outdoors now, according to Bistodeau, with at least 65 people who have secured long term housing.

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Through TOPCities, St. Paul worked with CPI, the Beeck Center, the Knight Foundation, M Health Fairview, and Shelter App to help create a single centralized online resource app for its unsheltered population, the first collaboration of this kind in the country.

Article by Emily Nonko.

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Written by:

Elysa Neumann Director, Communications & Storytelling, North America
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