Homelessness advocates and concerned members of the community joined together Monday to rally in front of Duluth's City Hall to call for four immediate actions to address the growing homelessness crisis. Around 15 tents were set up in the center of the Civic Center. Individuals planned to camp there overnight to raise awareness of the approximately 200-250 Duluthians who sleep outside every night.
"I could write down 200 names right now of people living outside on our streets," said homelessness advocate Deb Holman. "I've been doing homeless outreach since 1998 and in Duluth since 2005, and this is the absolute worst I've ever seen it."
In addition to the tents, advocates rallied on the City Hall steps to listen to speakers address the four main points the coalition is asking both the Duluth City Council and St. Louis County Board to address. The steps include:
1. An immediate end to evictions of homeless camps until warming centers open.
2. Fund warming centers for 24 hours a day.
3. Increase access to hygiene facilities year-round.
4. A multi-million dollar investment in low-income housing developments.
Attendees at the rally were asked to pull out their phones to connect remotely to Monday night's City Council meeting to speak out during the public comment period. Loaves and Fishes Catholic Worker Community organizer Joel Kilgore encouraged attendees to call and handed out portable hotspots to those who needed internet access.
"We've got the warming centers and what investment we have because people like you have taken the time to make that call," Kilgore said. "I moved into Loaves and Fishes in 1995. Back then no one ever had to be out on the street. If there wasn't room at the CHUM shelter, we made room for them at our house. The average length of stay was 2-4 weeks. Today we turn away sometimes 20-30 people a day."
Kilgore pointed to decreasing federal programs and funding to support housing needs and homeless programs. He said the homelessness crisis is a nationwide problem due to "failed federal leadership."
"But they're not coming to our rescue, so in the absence of their leadership, we have to," Kilgore said. "As a community, we need to get creative, brave, bold and passionate to find solutions so that everyone in our community has a safe place to call home."
Another speaker proposed one possible solution to help address shelter needs on a small scale. Kassie Standingbear Helgerson with American Indian Movement-Twin Ports is proposing building yurts to help house some of the people living on the streets.
"I've lived in a yurt in the backyard of a friend on Central Entrance and it's a warm and efficient place to live," Standingbear Helgerson said. "It would cost around $300 to build each one, depending on the materials and could help keep people safe."
She has proposed the idea to the city as a pilot program to build three or four yurts as a start.
The rally wound down as the City Council meeting started. Attendees gathered in small groups around smartphones to watch the meeting and make their calls for action.