Out in the Cold, Part 7: Returning to his cave

On the streets he's known as Bob. Just Bob. And what he's perhaps best known for on the streets is spending last winter in what amounts to a cave next to the Incline Station Bowling Alley parking lot downtown.

Bob, who wouldn't allow use of his last name, ducks to enter a semi-enclosed space below First Street, next to the Incline Station parking lot. Bob lived in the space last winter. (Steve Kuchera /

On the streets he's known as Bob. Just Bob. And what he's perhaps best known for on the streets is spending last winter in what amounts to a cave next to the Incline Station Bowling Alley parking lot downtown.

"I wasn't homeless," he said. "That was my home."

And when he lived there, he had rules: He kept the place clean, carrying a bag of garbage out with him each morning ("People get mad when you're making a mess. We've all got to live on this planet. Make it look nice"); not going to the bathroom where he lived ("Even pigs know that"); staying dry at all costs ("The moisture is the part that's going to get you"); and leaving and entering the spot discreetly ("Make sure no one sees you coming or going; and never tell anyone the location of your spot").

"Once you start bringing a crowd over, that's when everything starts to go haywire," he said.

Bob allowed the News Tribune to photograph him for this story but wouldn't allow use of his last name, saying he could "change my appearance but not my last name."


The 46-year-old has lived in Duluth since 1995, and he had slept in an assortment of abandoned buildings and beneath overpasses before his Incline lot abode. When he found the spot next to the parking lot, he covered holes on the wall with tarp and cardboard, and he covered himself with blankets and a sleeping bag. He'd make sure to sleep in clean clothes -- anything that was dirty and damp made it more difficult to stay warm.

Before he became homeless he was a welder and pipe-fitter, he said; his life went spiraling downward after ending a relationship and losing custody of his kids.

"It threw me off the deep end," he said.

His alcoholism, though, was probably due to depression, he said.

"I've probably had depression all my life," he said. "Alcoholism is usually a symptom of something else. There's got to be an underlying issue as to why you're doing it."

The Incline Station lot was a place he went after getting tired of society, he said.

"No phone calls, no bills," he said. "It was great. I just went and camped out."

Though his space didn't have a heater, he stayed warm by wrapping himself with a blanket and huddling over a candle -- even on days when the thermometer hit 30 below. He used bathrooms in nearby public buildings.


"All you basically need is food, shelter and clothing," he said. "What else do you need? Everything else is wants."

Bob said he was reading a book in his cave one day when he heard crunching snow outside.

"The guy said: 'I've been on the [police] force for 12 years, and I never knew this existed,' " Bob related.

For police officers who find spots like Bob's and roust the homeless, the goal isn't to kick them out in the streets but to protect their safety.

"That vault," as Duluth police East Area Commander Eric Rish called Bob's spot, "isn't meant for habitation."

Rish said he often finds homeless people suffering from severe frostbite, sometimes even gangrene, "because their feet had been frozen for so long and they lost circulation."

"Police aren't just here to enforce laws," he said. "We're here to protect lives."

Police work closely with homeless outreach workers to find at least temporary housing for the people they find on the streets, Rish said. Most homeless don't trust the police, Rish said, but they will trust outreach workers.


Thanks to outreach from Deb Holman at Churches United in Ministry and the Human Development Center, for the past several months Bob has lived in an apartment with a cat.

He said he still thinks about hiding out again -- but he wouldn't return to the Incline Station parking lot.

"I have another spot that's in backup," he said. "You get it in your head that, even though you have a place, you could lose everything. And I'm not scared of that."

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