ExploreMinnesota.com describes Duluth as “Yours to discover and interpret on your own terms. Like picking rocks along Lake Superior’s ancient shores or exploring trails that span every part of the city’s expansive outdoor wonderland. Like tasting your way through restaurants and pubs and shopping the variety of shops – whether they’re found along the charming brick-paved walks or as hidden gems off the beaten track.”
And while Duluth is a fun town for tourists to visit and explore in the best circumstances, tourists to Duluth today need to know they could be snatching needles off the Lakewalk before their toddler picks one up, side-stepping human feces on those brick-paved walks, enjoying views of Duluth’s transient population washing their undergarments in the fountains at Lake and Superior Street – or inadvertently stumbling into someone’s “home” while on one of those “wonderland” trails.
Pictures of poop have been flooding our email box lately as calls to the Mayor of Duluth go unanswered.
Warning – pictures from Duluth’s own sh*t seeing tour are featured at the end of this article.
One concerned reader reached out to us with an in-depth look at their struggles with the desecration the homeless population is leaving and living in downtown.
Despite downtown businesses paying up to and even over $6,000 in fees to the Greater Downtown Council – some of which supports the Downtown Duluth Clean and Safe Team, the mess remains. The Clean and Safe Team is a small staff of people who are tasked with keeping downtown welcoming for guests of the businesses there. The team cleans from Mesaba Avenue to 10th Avenue East and Canal Park to Second Street. The Greater Downtown Council describes their job as controlling litter, pressure washing, removing weeds and graffiti, somehow discouraging panhandling with their bright yellow shirts, and offering directions, assistance, and info on local retail services. Our reader shared that there is no clean-up by the city or anyone else of the public areas near his building in the heart of downtown, and certainly no clean-up of the private property. The homeless problem that the city has let grow unchecked is now a burden for downtown property owners and the businesses that rent space downtown, one that many are deciding not to put up with anymore. Not only has the current situation downtown scared away customers and businesses, but many business and property owners do not have the staff, training, or equipment to deal with the type of mess that is being left on their property.
Human waste is hazardous waste, as are the needles intravenous drug users leave behind.
One downtown property manager called several numbers for the City of Duluth looking for help before finally connecting with a person in the Mayor’s office who told them they had never received a call like this or had been made aware of the issues with the homeless people in the city. Apparently, city hall must be in a “poop-free zone”.
The city staff person called the Duluth Police Department and the officer reached out to the property manager. The officer told them that if they saw people in their parking lot they could call and have them cited for trespassing. The property manager didn’t think this would make a difference, the people loitering on their property are often high on drugs and so out of it they wouldn’t remember the interaction with the police, and if they did it may spark some kind of retaliation making the problem worse.
The problems downtown are getting worse, with our reader sharing “Every week there is more and more trash, food items, dirty diapers, dirty needles, caps for needles, and human waste. There are people in the parking lot, graffiti, and damage done to walkways.”
The reader reported that nearby CHUM must have recently given out hotdogs because much of the leftovers were discarded on his property. The amount of garbage left is hard to fathom, but our reader’s description of having to “go out back three times in a week with a metal snow shovel to shovel garbage off the stairwell” gives you a visual of the scope of this problem. The cleaning company for this property doesn’t feel safe bringing trash and recyclables outside at night, and the property manager doesn’t blame them.
The drug use downtown is brazen with users openly shooting up on the streets with no repercussions. Between reopening the Lakewalk and introducing a new Duluth flag, the City of Duluth has no time to address these undesirable problems, and requests made by the property manager to speak with the Mayor have gone unanswered at the time of this publication – over a week since she was contacted.
While citizens and tourists are forced to miss out on the Lake Superior view while keeping their eyes peeled for those smelly piles of “hidden gems” ExploreMinnesota must have been talking about, the problem is spreading from downtown, into Canal Park, and both East and West, by the colleges and up the hill. Meanwhile, the city remains blind not only to the waste and garbage, but the intimidating tactics of the panhandlers.
For more than a year, we’ve reported on what other media in town won’t – the deteriorating state of our city and the organizations tasked with caring for the homeless only perpetuating and increasing the crisis instead of solving it.
These organizations operate with funding from not only individual donors, but from government sources as well, but it does not appear that have any supervision, guidelines, or protocols from the government. They are overwhelmed with a problem they are not trained to solve and are unaware or ambivalent to the problems their “help” is creating. These organizations need supervision, guidance, and training – a tested and proven plan that helps homeless people improve their situation or at the very least manages the homeless population and reduces the damaging impact they are having on the city. These organizations must learn to be better neighbors to the businesses and citizens around them, many that support their efforts to help the homeless – before those businesses and their support are long gone.
By taking on the task of caring for the homeless, they must also be held responsible for the impact their services have on the community. By inviting the homeless population into downtown and surrounding business areas, and offering food, care, and shelter to them, these organizations should be designated as “caretakers” and be responsible for the actions of those under their care. Denying services to the “bad actors” in their care might be the start of encouraging better behavior by the homeless.
Fixing the homeless crisis in Duluth will take years if not decades. It’s not about finding housing for these individuals – it’s about finding help. Many are suffering mental health issues that would prevent them from staying in a dwelling, finding a job, or supporting themselves. State hospitals used to be the answer for this problem, but Minnesota discontinued them years ago lighting the match that started this fire. Regardless, action must be taken now to preserve what is left of downtown and tourist hotspots like Canal Park, city parks, and trails.
This summer, guests to our city will only be able to “interpret” our city as one that is in dire need of change – in attitude, leadership, and action.
ExploreMinnesota is correct about Duluth being a wonderland, though. We wonder how much longer the city will survive on its current trajectory. We wonder if the city will ever admit there is a big problem in Downtown and beyond. We wonder how they ever let it get this bad.