It’s no secret that Duluth’s homeless crisis has been growing unchecked. Just last week St. Louis County reported an 18% yearly increase in homeless as of January, with 612 unhoused residents in the county sleeping outside of shelters before the pandemic. In September of last year, the DNT reported that the number of Duluth households on a waiting list for housing had increased 26% from the year before, with 1,125 households on the list (a household could be more than one person). Not all of these people are on the streets but in the same month, CHUM reported 70 living in tents within Duluth.
In 2007, St. Louis County announced a Heading Home Campaign with the goal of ending homelessness in 10 years. The 10-year result was an increase of homelessness, a whopping 23% between 2015-2018 alone. This year, St. Louis County has $1.3 million listed under Homelessness Grants in their budget. In 2006, that budget was $0, in 2008 it jumped to $1.1 million and has hovered there ever since. Regular salaries in the category jumped from $93,029 in 2018, to $197,810 in 2020, unfortunately, the county’s budget tracker doesn’t list how many employees that covers.
How can the area’s homeless crisis be so much worse after millions of dollars have been earmarked for its solution than when nothing was being spent on it at all?
We’ll just let that sink in for a bit.
“Maybe fixing the homeless crisis isn’t about finding housing for homeless people. Maybe fixing the homeless crisis is about something more,” ponders the Grinch who stole taxpayer dollars.
Of course, it’s not just St. Louis County subsidizing homelessness. The City of Duluth was all in on the 10-year plan – the Steve O’Neil apartments one of its spoils. Endless community organizations, non-profits, and foundations also secure funds to support the problem and themselves. Some even talk area businesses and individuals out of their hard-earned money to “help” the problem as well.
But no matter how much money has been gathered, people hired, or non-profits created – the problem continues to grow. The key to ending homelessness gripped in the clutches of those that benefit from its existence. It seems silly to fix a problem that’ll put you out of a job.
I wonder how many jobs in Duluth rely on the worst conditions for people.
Instead of giving people a hand up, they are given a hand-out, perpetuating homelessness in the region and growing it by enticing outsiders to our cities with these handouts. How is it that Duluth has a poverty level 52.2% higher than the rest of the state with double the rate of homelessness?
Even the Director of CHUM, Lee Stuart, has acknowledged that the number of first-time homeless people on their list has dropped to 25% in the last ten years, meaning 75% of those they serve are chronically homeless. These folks are continually receiving a hand-out, instead of a hand-up.
As in most circumstances, our government and non-profit agencies are the predators, and we are the prey. It’s our pocketbooks they stealthy track, devising heart-warming, do-nothing policies that tax or fee more money out of pockets. With homelessness, they feast twice, with our tax dollars and also all of the grants and funds that pour in to nobly help the homeless, but instead end up being someone’s payroll and benefits package.
Solving homelessness is more than providing a home, although that need is scarce in the Twin Ports. The efforts to end homelessness are by and large funded by tax-payers directly or indirectly and it’s not unfair for us to demand some transparency.
It’s also time for some new ideas. The last two decades have shown that city, county, and the various non-profit agencies are unable to solve this problem. Check back next week for Part 3, where we’ll suggest some new options to end homelessness.