Duluth police are in the process of clearing out a large encampment of people who are homeless at Point of Rocks in Duluth.
Police appeared at the camp, just above West Superior Street in the Observation Hill neighborhood, Tuesday and Wednesday to give notice and begin the process of clearing people out. The Duluth Housing and Redevelopment Authority, which owns the property, said a report of sexual assault prompted its action to break up the camp.
Sources living in the camp said they were told if they were not out by Thursday they'll be charged with trespassing.
"They're taking away our place to live," Kelly Lane, 36, said. "None of us know what we're going to do."
Deb Holman, street outreach worker for CHUM, was at the scene Wednesday.
"They came in kind of heavy," Holman said of the police, describing 10 squads with officers delivering the notice Tuesday. "I think they want to break them up into smaller groups."
She said there are 34 people, give or take, living in the encampment, which features tents and lean-tos both grouped together and scattered along wooded trails tracing the rocks.
Holman said she was frustrated by not being informed of the action.
But HRA Executive Director Jill Keppers said her organization has been working with CHUM since July with regard to various encampments.
"We have been responding to resident complaints about having things stolen from their vehicles, large bonfires, parties, tremendous amounts of trash and litter, and even explosions of unknown origin," Keppers told the News Tribune. "We have been working with the outreach worker in an attempt to be proactive at helping our residents experiencing homelessness vacate this property."
Keppers said the final straw was an as-yet-unverified report of a sexual assault in the Point of Rocks camp.
"After working for three months at being nice and giving opportunities to voluntarily move, it was decided that this latest and horrible incident required us to ask the police to issue trespass notices before we have additional serious incidents on the site," Keppers said.
The News Tribune did not hear back from police late Wednesday to confirm the sexual assault.
Holman said she has a roster with the names of more than 160 people living in homeless camps scattered throughout Duluth. She estimated there were likely twice as many when including people she has not contacted. She added that police were also giving notice at other camps, in places such as Chester Creek.
"My thing is, where are they going to go?" Holman said, noting that CHUM alone can't accommodate the people being displaced.
The city of Duluth, which in 2014 became the first city in the state to establish a Homeless Bill of Rights, declined to comment, deferring to the housing authority. The city's Homeless Bill of Rights says: "It is not a crime to be homeless and that everyone has a right to standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself or herself and of his or her family."
"We're only human," Lane said. "We can't help that the economy sucks."
Lane described a sort of camaraderie among the campers at Point of Rocks, where the people cook meals and eat together.
Holman said that lately there have been more disturbances at the camp. Neither Lane nor Holman mentioned a sexual assault.
Lane is originally from St. Paul and moved to Duluth within the last year to try better luck. She and others at the camp blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for a lack of opportunities.
Asked what was next for her, Lane said: "I'm just going to move to a different spot."