Advocate: I-35 Homeless Encampment Fire Highlights Duluth’s Affordable Housing Crisis

DULUTH, Minn. – Duluth’s top homeless outreach advocate is speaking out one day after a homeless camp in Duluth created quite the fire and smoke show under a busy stretch of I-35 downtown.

Deb Holman, outreach coordinator for CHUM and the Human Development Center, said homeless advocates and the Minnesota Department of Transportation are working together to try to find at least 20 people a new place to live after part of their camp started on fire.

The fire happened Monday evening under the Mesaba Avenue and Superior Street exit ramp.

Nobody was injured, but the flames were big and three people who lived their lost all their belongings.

But the problem is larger than that. The encampment, which Holman said has been used since last winter by many, is full of garbage and drug paraphernalia, like needles, making it a serious safety and health concern.  This is why MnDOT is in discussions with advocates about how to move forward.

Meanwhile, Holman said this one camp is just one visual of how big the homeless problem has become in Duluth.

“We have a large-scale homeless problem that isn’t getting better. It’s only getting worse. It’s just harder and harder to find a place. So even people that might have a Section 8 voucher, they might not ever find anything, and then they have to start over and wait two years again,” said Holman.

MnDOT said bridge crews surveyed the area of the fire Tuesday and found “no significant concern” to the structure of the ramp. Clean-up crews will tackle the garbage and debris later this week.

The CHUM drop-in center in Duluth has been packed all summer, which is usually a time when the number of visitors falls off, according to Holman, so the need this winter is expected to be strong.

Last year, the drop-in center and the city’s warming center saw 600 individual people needing a safe place to stay.

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