While Real Stories North has been covering stories on Duluth’s Homeless Crisis for the last year, major local news outlets seem to ignore the havoc the homeless are creating in Duluth until it’s a fiery in-your-face inferno.
Two days ago, a homeless encampment located under I-35 near Railroad Street burned. The Fire Department was alerted to the blaze by motorists. The Duluth Fire Department shared information on the fire on their Facebook page (see the post below), explaining that crews on arriving on the scene found smoke coming from below the interstate as a large homeless encampment burned. But the fire wasn’t the only danger crews found, they removed several propane tanks including one that had released gas and accelerated the fire. Along with other debris, they found drug paraphernalia. Assistant Chief Dennis Edwards was quoted in their press release, saying, “Firefighters were challenged by the dangerous space and unsafe conditions due to drug paraphernalia and multiple sources of fuel including propane and gasoline. I appreciate the fast thinking by the Ames Construction crew and the assistance they provided. Thanks to them we were able to extinguish the fire a lot faster than we would have without their help.” Ames Construction provided water from their tanker truck to the Fire Department.
Last year at this time more than 600 homeless people were counted in Duluth, with encampments under the freeway and hidden throughout the city. Duluth has a no camping ordinance in the city, but rarely are the “campers” ever removed. Last summer, the Duluth Police Department was contacted to remove the encampment at the Point of Rocks after several violent encounters and a rape took place there.
CHUM’s outreach coordinator, Deb Holman, told FOX21 News that they are looking for a place for the 20 people displaced by the fire to live. She also shared that approximately 30 people live under the interstate off and on. She told the news station that the encampment has been used since last winter by many and is full of garbage and needles creating a safety and health concern. Holman admitted to FOX that “We have a large-scale homeless problem that isn’t getting better.” And blames the issue on affordable housing, including section 8 housing.
While housing in Duluth is certainly an issue, the city doesn’t seem to make the problem any better. The City releases Housing Indicator reports touting the high price of rent in Duluth and the income required to live in such places on one hand, then turns around and raises property taxes and fees on property owners – all costs that have to be passed on to the renters. The question that needs to be asked is how many of our local homeless population could sustain housing? Living in encampments filled with garbage and drug paraphernalia does not seem like an indicator for the person seeking away out of their situation, let alone a job or an apartment. How many of our homeless are mentally sound enough to be helped?
State hospitals used to house those who could not care for themselves. The Pawlenty administration closed them and we’re are now seeing the impact full force. While the hospitals were a large line item in the budget, what is the current homeless problem costing cities, counties, and the state? What has it done to crime, health, and safety throughout our communities?
A homeless encampment blaze can’t be ignored, but where are the headlines on the fecal matter being left on downtown sidewalks – even as far east as Fitgers? Where are the reporters asking the city about crime on the Lakewalk and in Canal Park, or about the needles on the sidewalks on First street? Ignoring these problems in the headlines allows the city to ignore them every day. It’s also what leads to rape at the Point of Rocks and an inferno under the interstate. Apparently, “see something, say something” only applies to the stuff the City doesn’t have to fix.