Local view: ‘Homes for All’ can help Duluthians
Although I grew up in Duluth, I always felt I was never very “in touch” with its issues. So when I returned after some time away I decided to get involved with CHUM, a local organization dealing with homelessness. As I got to know other members of the CHUM community and hear their stories, I quickly realized how much work remains to be done in our city to help residents move from the streets and shelters to stable, affordable housing.
Our state legislative session is now in full swing, and a “Homes for All” bonding bill request is on the agenda, co-sponsored by Duluth Rep. Erik Simonson. It would allocate up to $100 million to build and preserve affordable and supportive housing for extremely low-income individuals and families statewide.
Stories I’ve heard make it clear how much this bill could do for Duluth.
Ed Smith has one of those stories. Now an advocate for affordable housing, he was forced to sell all he owned after a work injury left him paralyzed and in a wheelchair for 13 years. Homeless and living on the river, he eventually moved into the city for access to skilled doctors. He found the Seaway was the only housing he could afford. However, the Seaway is in need of repair after the flood damaged it two years ago. The project is under review for funding.
Donn Hawn found his first sleeping quarters in Duluth under the I-35 overpass, in an area called the “Graffiti Graveyard.” He stayed there with others who couldn’t get in anywhere else. It was January. A felony background prevented him from finding housing until recently, but he now pays 60 percent of his income on rent, and that forces him to sometimes choose between food and the medication he needs. If “Homes for All” succeeds, he hopes its bolstering of affordable housing options will remove the need for that choice.
Unable to find an affordable home in Duluth, Max Peterson undergoes a daily struggle to pursue needed medical care and mental-health support — never mind work that would bring a consistent income. A bilateral ankle replacement has made mobility painful, and he needs to commute between Two Harbors and Duluth for his medical care. He sometimes goes months between appointments out of fear he will not find a place to stay afterward. Often he has no choice but to stay on his feet if he does make it into town. This has driven him to deal with mounting pain by drinking on occasion, thereby undermining his ongoing efforts to stay sober. He is looking for a home and consistent resting place in Duluth so he can not only get to his medical appointments regularly but can see his mental-health worker, work a job and achieve the overall stability necessary to successfully manage his chemical dependency.
“Homes for All” could help make all this possible. These stories, like others I’ve heard, have led me to voice my support for “Homes for All.” I know I speak for many more than me when I say I hope you will consider also supporting the initiative.
Byron Schuldt of Duluth volunteers at CHUM, advocating for housing and working in the food shelf. Matt Traynor, a community organizer for CHUM, contributed.
To endorse the “Homes for All” bill or to find out more about it, go to:
* The Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless’ Web page at mnhomelesscoalition.org/homes-for-all-2014-2/
* The Minnesota Housing Partnership’s Web page at mhponline.org/policy/policystate/homes-for-all
Or contact your local representatives to encourage them to support “Homes for All,” urges the writer of this commentary.