Duluth’s ‘Stepping On Up’ Supports ‘Safe Zones’ For Homeless

DULUTH, Minn. – Anyone who lives or travels in Duluth can see the signs of homelessness.

“People are camping all over the city,” says Deb Holman, a Street Outreach Coordinator for CHUM and Human Development Center.  “It’s not just one area, it’s like everywhere.”

St. Louis County’s latest count on homelessness found 606 people experiencing it.  That number has grown over the past five years.

Holman agrees with the numbers.  “I’ve been here since 2005, so every year it’s getting worse.  It’s getting worse, and I think this year I would say that again.  It’s getting worse.”

While there are emergency shelters available, Holman says 155 beds are not enough.  “The shelter is always open to anybody that wants to come in, but at some point we would be too full.”

As for those who stay out in the open, Holman describes their living conditions as undignified and not safe.   “They don’t have hygiene facilities.  There’s a lack of food.  They’re hungry, and there not receiving the right services.”

So how does one end homelessness in Duluth?  A group called Stepping On Up is trying to figure that out.

“Last fall is when the homeless service providers and street outreach workers in Duluth came together,” says Joel Kilgour, the group’s organizer.

Kilgour says his group understands the resources are not available now for the city to build their way out.  “Conventional ways of building multi-family development takes millions of dollars and sometimes up to a decade to make happen.”

So they have come up with a three-phase approach.  Kilgour says the first phase would create safe zones across the city for homeless people to spend the night.  “With some security oversight, with access to bathrooms, with access to garbage, so we can begin really limiting the dangers of homelessness for both those individuals and our neighborhoods.”

From there, additional steps would be taken to find more permanent housing.  Kilgour says they won’t always be the traditional homes and apartments.  “Tiny houses, hotel/motel conversions, ways that we can get the biggest bang for their buck and also get people inside.”

Kilgour says the group is currently looking at around a dozen sites to place temporary and permanent housing, and they have gotten support from churches and law enforcement.

Their next step is getting support from neighborhoods.  Kilgour points out they won’t move into a site unless the people living next to them are given a chance to ask questions and learn more about how they can help.  “To answer their concerns and provide them an opportunity to get to know their new neighbors who are moving in and participate, and hopefully add value to those communities.  The more that our neighborhoods engage in that process as good neighbors, as we expect the people living in these sites to be good neighbors, the more success that we will see.”

Stepping On Up has an end goal to add at least 200 new places for people to live in Duluth.

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