Duluth looks to offer homeless people safe place for possessions

The insecurity many people experience when they lose housing only intensifies their anxiety, and the city is looking at what it can do to help.

The Damiano Center, 206 W. Fourth St., Duluth.
File / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Imagine trying to securely carry all your worldly possessions on your person as you go about your daily business.

That’s a real challenge faced by people experiencing homelessness or housing instability, said Seth Currier, executive director of the Damiano Center.

“Every day, people come up to me and say: Someone stole my stuff. It was my best friend, I thought I could trust them, and I left my stuff with them so I could go to my doctor appointment, or so I could make a trip to the store, and they sold it, or they stole it, or they burned it, or what have you,” Currier said.

“We’re talking about situations where everything they own, they’re carrying on their back,” he said. Those items might include valuables, important documentation such as a birth certificate, photos of loved ones, precious keepsakes or even the ashes of a dead parent.

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 in December 2020.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

“So, this is really an opportunity to provide people who don’t have a place to live or who don’t have a safe place to store their belongings to just be able to know that they can rest without worrying about those things,” Currier said.


On Monday, the Duluth City Council will decide whether to provide $31,500 of the opioid settlement funds the city will receive to support a safe storage program, with the property to be securely housed in relatively small, labeled plastic tubs under video surveillance at the Damiano Center.

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A resolution heading to the council notes that many of the people who will use the program likely have “co-occurring substance use disorder or mental health conditions.” The proposed funding should be sufficient to support the program for six years.

Currier said the Damiano Center already has sufficient space to accommodate the program, but will need to build out shelving and a setup to secure the personal property.

“It’s really just a way to allow people to let their guard down a little bit, because the stress that comes with watching your stuff, as well as trying to sleep, or as well as trying to go shop for something, or whatever it might be that you need to do, it’s really just another beautiful opportunity to continue to promote dignity, like we’re trying to do with all of our programs,” he said.

Liz Carlson (from left), Anna Sandberg, Sarah Belanger, and Donna Howard hand out free items to homeless people during Thursday’s event at the Damiano Center. The items included chemical hand warmers, food, bus passes, and personal hygiene items. Steve Kuchera /
Liz Carlson, from left, Anna Sandberg, Sarah Belanger and Donna Howard hand out free items like hand warmers, food and bus passes to homeless people during an event at the Damiano Center in 2019.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

The idea is not unique. In fact, Currier said the local plan was drawn from a similar Minneapolis program that has been helping displaced people for a couple years.

“So we’ve been able to look at their model, learn from their mistakes and listen to their suggestions,” he said.

Currier said a number of local players have stepped up to help the city and the Damiano Center launch the initiative, which is part of the "Stepping On Up" plan to address homelessness. Those organizations involved include Downtown Duluth, St. Louis County, Chum and the Human Development Center.

Supervised camps could arrive in the city yet this summer.

Heading into the program, Currier acknowledged there are still many unknowns. “We’re going to build it, and then we’ll see what the need is,” he said.


Currier doesn’t expect people to embrace the program overnight. “These are people’s most important possessions. So, it’s going to take a little bit of time for people to build up trust to let go of that stuff and know they can trust us to take care of it,” he said.

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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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