Duluth to offer better access to hygiene for homeless people

Duluth's Damiano Center will install six portable lavatory units.

The Damiano Center Executive Director Seth Currier locks the door to one of the six separate shower/bathroom units of a new $68,000 trailer Wednesday. After last-minute details are taken care of the trailer will be available for homeless people to use. (Steve Kuchera /

It's the little things, like a hot shower and the chance to freshen up that can make a big difference in the quality of life for a person experiencing homelessness.

That's why public hygiene facilities have been high on the wish list for homeless advocates in Duluth for a long time. And the Damiano Center, at 206 W. Fourth St., is just days away from finally being ready to fulfill that need.

The center accepted a delivery from Indiana on Tuesday morning of a portable trailer rig equipped with six self-contained bathrooms, each complete with an individual toilet, sink and shower.

It will take several more days to complete the necessary permits, plus water and sewer hookups. Seth Currier, executive director of the Damiano Center, expects the facility to be ready for use within a couple weeks. Funding for the $68,000 trailer was made available through St. Louis County and the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.


The six-unit hygiene trailer arrived at the Damiano Center Tuesday. (Steve Kuchera /

"There's been a huge need for basic hygiene for people for quite some time, so we're pleased that with CARES money we'll be able to provide that," Currier said.

He noted that proper hygiene is an important element for maintaining people's physical and mental health, not to mention obtaining employment and keeping it.

Deb Holman, a homeless advocate for CHUM, welcomed news of the hygiene center's arrival, explaining that the COVID-19 pandemic has made it tougher than ever for many people to access basic services many of us take for granted.

Holman noted that quite honestly Duluth could have used a hygiene center much sooner.

"But for now, this is great that people can have a place to shower if they need to," she said. "I mean, they can shower at the CHUM Center, too, and CHUM is actually doing renovations on its bathrooms as well," she said.

Read more stories about homelessness in the Northland:

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The Duluth City Council also plans to use about $400,000 in CARES Act funding to open a warming house and hygiene facility at a yet-to-be-determined location, perhaps the Lincoln Park Community Center at 2014 W. Third St., but that project likely won't materialize until next year.
Meanwhile, Holman said the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness are undeniable.


"Since COVID started, it's been the absolute worst, because we asked for outhouses all summer and were promised them numerous times, but they never delivered. There was almost nothing public open," she said. "So, it will be a great thing to have that."

Each of the trailer’s six self-contained units include a sink, toilet, and shower (partly visible in the mirror. (Steve Kuchera /

Initial plans call for the hygiene center to be staffed Monday through Friday during business hours, and Currier said the units will be sanitized between each use. The Damiano Center is still working to obtain the operating funds it will need to keep the facility going. The CARES Act support will cover only the up-front capital expense of setting up the units.

Currier said the hygiene center falls far short of being "a fix" for the problem of homelessness, instead calling it "one piece of the puzzle."

Holman said she's pleased that the moratorium on evictions has been extended until the end of January.

"But I just worry about when that ends," she said. "What's homelessness going to look like?"


The Damiano Center Executive Director Seth Currier examines one of the six separate shower/bathroom units of the new hygiene trailer. The unit’s shower stall is visible beyond Currier. (Steve Kuchera /

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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