Duluth’s homeless crisis has been growing exponentially over the last few years, fueled by a parallel drug problem in our city, along with city officials and local organizations that are more concerned with the comfort and accommodations of the homeless than actually solving a crisis that will inevitably end with dire consequences.
What does that mean? It means that the homeless are not just passively sitting on sidewalks with signs anymore. They are aggressively confronting people asking for money.
Yesterday, while leaving Whole Foods Coop on 4th Street a woman was followed to her vehicle by two homeless men that she had noticed were sleeping on the corner when she arrived. Even after she was safely locked inside her vehicle, the aggressive homeless men continued to hound her, knocking loudly on her windows while begging for money. The woman, terrified, drove away.
This example is one of dozens that happen in Duluth each day. Whether you’re downtown or up the hill by the Mall, even at the entrances to Target, you’ll find homeless hanging out in intersections, by stoplights and signs, begging for money; and with increasing frequency, approaching vehicles.
Not only does this impact the people who are shopping at these businesses, but the businesses themselves. Many contact the police about people loitering and harassing customers (since begging in Duluth is no longer illegal), but the response they receive is often “there’s nothing we can do”.
When does the potential harm of the situation – with either a shopper being injured (or worse) by a panhandler or a panhandler injured by a person trying to escape their advances, become the liability of the business or property owner where the aggressive begging is taking place? And when does it become the liability of the city who are unable, or unwilling, to do anything to remedy the issue?
Recent news stories have reported that this year there are too many homeless for the warming shelters and that CHUM does not have enough hats and gloves for them. Where are they coming from? When the Point of Rocks was cleaned out this past summer a DNT article reported one of the homeless as saying they had moved here from the cities for a change of scenery. How many of the homeless that our community is being asked to support are not even from our area? And what is attracting them here? Luxurious interstate overpass accommodations? It’s certainly not the ample affordable housing or endless good-paying jobs.
While we do advocate for compassion for those who are experiencing hard times, there is a difference between advocating for improving the lives of those experiencing homelessness and doing things that enable it.
The time for Duluth to take serious action against homelessness (as opposed to “for homelessness”) is long overdue. The problem has grown much bigger than a few beggars in our downtown. The overpass encampment fire two months ago is an undeniable sign of how out of control the problem has become and an indicator of what to expect in the future if nothing is done.
Duluth must act before lives are lost.