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Column: Ending homelessness in Duluth will take your effort

Valentine's Day is usually cold in Duluth, where harsh winters make experiencing homelessness particularly difficult. This year, an effort which could help lower the number of people experiencing homelessness in our community was launched Feb. 14...

Reyna Crow
Duluthian Reyna Crow has a degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin.

Valentine's Day is usually cold in Duluth, where harsh winters make experiencing homelessness particularly difficult. This year, an effort which could help lower the number of people experiencing homelessness in our community was launched Feb. 14, by a group of area residents, called "Open House Duluth."

According to organizers, it was standing room only in the foreclosed home in which the inaugural "open house" was held, even though the exact location was "secret, until the day of the event" according to Adam Richter of Superior, who helped promote "Have a Heart Duluth" on social media.

Attendees were greeted with offers of chocolate in honor of Valentine's Day. They also were warmed up with homemade soup and asked to become active participants in a dialogue centered on developing a process or processes by which we might substantially reduce homelessness in Duluth. An announcement from Richter the day of the event indicated that the goal was to "start a discussion about affordable housing, and to highlight the number of homeless people, as well as the number of vacant houses, that we have in our community."

More than five years ago the city signed onto a St. Louis County "Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness."

"I think that the city and the county will want to do this" said Donna Howard, an organizer of the event, adding that the city and county have indicated the will to end homelessness with the plan unveiled in 2007.

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A copy of the plan called "Heading Home St. Louis County -- A Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness," is available on the City of

Duluth's website, http://www.duluthmn . gov/community_development/document_library/docs/10-Year%20Plan%20to%20End%20Homelessness.pdf.

"Asking the city and county to look into where they have succeeded and failed" is something the group plans to advocate, Howard told the Budgeteer. She went on to explain that the event was about calling attention to the problem and bringing public support to the city and county. The group is also calling for an evaluation of housing stock in the city.

As the reports repeatedly indicate, homelessness is a significant problem in Duluth and St. Louis County that cannot be substantially improved without addressing barriers of access. These reports are available on the city and county's own websites. While it is necessary that local government has the will to act decisively to eliminate homelessness, that alone is not sufficient. Citizen input and participation is a necessary part of the solution.

I am encouraged to see these types of proactive, citizen-led events in Duluth. We care about our neighbors here, and that shows. We have to translate our concern into action for change. It is up to us to let our elected leaders know that eliminating homelessness remains a strong priority. We should communicate this as a high priority by serving on citizen advisory committees, volunteering our support to organizations such as "Open House Duluth" and otherwise contribute our ideas and energy.

The Ten-Year Plan is a great start, but we are halfway through the timeframe and we need to keep the momentum going. Read the reports and learn a bit more about what homelessness looks like in this particular community. You can contribute by helping dispel common myths. It is a myth that people become homeless because they are addicted or lazy, and that the safety nets we have in place are effective and safe.

Give your city councilor and county commissioner a call and let them know you appreciate the work done so far and that you'd like to know where we stand now. If possible, offer to serve on a committee working on the plans that may need citizen involvement. You can also subscribe to updates from Open House Duluth via its website, openhouseduluth.blogspot.com, or get in touch through Project Save Our Homes at (218)428-1154. Like their website says: Be heard. Get involved. Eat soup.

Duluthian Reyna Crow has a degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin.

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