This past week a few photos of a homeless encampment near the Fitger’s Complex created a stir on social media. In the photos, you see the small grassy area surrounded by concrete littered with tarps, cardboard boxes, blankets, garbage, and a pretty official-looking sign that says “Camp Larson”. The sign, a joke, calling out the current Mayor’s lack of action on the homeless crisis growing in Duluth.
The encampment by Fitger’s is on property owned by MNDOT that guests of the Fitger’s complex walk or bike on to move between the complex and other downtown shops. The MNDOT response team is working on a way to remedy the homeless situation there. As the weather warms and COVID wanes, tourists are expected back in town, cleaning up the recurring filth left by the city’s homeless population should become a priority downtown and throughout Duluth, but if last summer is predictive of how the city will respond, it will be yet another year of inaction. We’ve featured several stories on this site of the issues the homeless havoc on downtown – from defecating and urinating in business doorways to harassing people for money, leaving drug paraphernalia on sidewalks, and damaging private property. The homeless crisis isn’t just isolated in downtown, near the CHUM center, it spreads throughout the city in the summer from the far west parts of Duluth where photos can be found of people sleeping on bus benches, to encampments in Chester Park, and people being harassed in Canal Park on the Lake Walk.
Instead of facing the homeless crisis head-on, the City seems to rely on CHUM (Churches United in Ministry). CHUM is an organization mostly supported by donations collected at local churches and from business and individual donors, and just so happens to be the Mayor’s former employer. CHUM programs, unfortunately, do more to perpetuate homelessness than solve it. Just this week, CHUM was featured in several news stories with Street Outreach Coordinator, Deb Holman, asking for tent donations for the homeless. Where will the homeless set up these tents? The stories don’t say. It was also recently announced that the Downtown Duluth Inn on 2nd Street will be converted into housing for the homeless. Just what downtown and the businesses trying to survive there need: another crime-ridden Steve O’Neil-esqe Apartment disaster smack-dab in what should be Duluth’s bustling center of commerce.
Last October, the homeless encampment at the Point of Rocks was removed. Clean-up was still taking place as of a week ago. It’s really not a big stretch to compare what is happening in Duluth with the homeless to what has been happening with immigration at the Mexican border since Biden took office – and there is one takeaway: It matters who is in charge. Someone has to say “No”. Someone has to draw the line where compassion turns to destructive enabling that negatively impacts everyone. The old adage of putting on your oxygen mask first in an airline emergency applies here. Businesses, and the people who work in downtown Duluth, need the City to act and for CHUM to stop damaging downtown with their failing programs. If we continue the way we’re going – migrating all the City’s homeless toward services and programs downtown, while ignoring the businesses and people there who can help the city prosper, Duluth is headed downhill where there is no one left to support the city’s homeless industry.