ST. CLOUD – A newly established warming shelter in St. Cloud for people experiencing homelessness is busy – and raising money to install showers.

Lincoln Center, located at 630 Lincoln Avenue Southeast, is a 24-hour shelter run by St. Cloud-based nonprofit Homeless Helping Homeless. The organization, founded in 2019, is an association of homeless or formerly homeless people who provide one another with resources for food, clothing, transportation, housing, and employment.

Harry Fleegel, a founder of Homeless Helping Homeless, says opening a facility like Lincoln Center has been a goal since the organization was created – but they weren’t sure if it was attainable.

“The (City of St. Cloud) was really reluctant to open up any kind of a warming center,” Fleegel explained. “But this fall, they kind of had a change of heart.”

Lincoln Center is a no-barrier shelter, meaning it will accept anyone in need of a place to stay regardless if they have been banned from other shelters in the past. Fleegel says the building has been full every day since it opened.

“Even though we didn’t have a tremendously cold November or December, the need is so great out there for people to have a place to stay,” Fleegel said. “When the (Heritage Park) encampment was shut down, a lot of those folks came over for a warm place to stay and food.”

“When the weather got brutal in the last few weeks, it’s just been overwhelming,” he added.

Submitted photo

Lincoln Center offers a variety of amenities, including food, clothing, bathrooms, reclining chairs, internet, television, and access to housing and employment resources – but not showers, which Fleegel says are often out of reach for many individuals experiencing homelessness.

Lincoln Center staff members were initially arranging for guests to take showers at a local gym, but the plan fizzled when the business closed temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Another option - bringing people to a local truck stop - proved to be cost-prohibitive over time.

“It ended up costing about $8 a shower,” Fleegel said. “And when you have 15 or so people needing showers every couple of days, it adds up to quite a lot of money.”

Fleegel says the plan is to install two showers – one regular and one handicap-accessible – in each of Lincoln Center’s two bathrooms. The project is being supported by a GoFundMe campaign organized by a group of social work students from St. Cloud State University. The fundraiser, called Warming Showers for The Warming Place, has raised a little over $1,000 toward the $5,000 goal.

“We believe every human being has worth and value and should be treated with respect,” write the campaign organizers. “Showers and the ability to apply for jobs and housing while clean and presentable definitely makes a difference.”

Lincoln Center is funded entirely by grants and private donations. To learn more, visit their website.

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