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Overheard: 'You are not going to draw more (homelessness) by offering help'

A new initiative in Duluth called “Stepping On Up” is working to boost shelter capacity, create low-cost housing to get people off the streets, and, most immediately, designate safe places where unhoused Duluthians can park or camp.

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Pat Bagley /Cagle Cartoons
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Jen Davey has lived in Duluth all her life and has heard the claim repeatedly, how homeless and unemployed people flock here from all over because of our generous handouts and how if we build more homeless facilities we will attract more homeless people. A “Local View” column in the News Tribune just this summer suggested the latter.

Such viewpoints are hooey, according to Davey, housing manager at the American Indian Community Housing Organization, or AICHO. She’s also an advocate for a new initiative in Duluth called “Stepping On Up,” which is working to boost shelter capacity, create low-cost housing to get people off the streets, and, most immediately, designate safe places where unhoused Duluthians can park or camp. Unsanctioned camping happens now all over the city. It’s unsafe and leaves messes.

“I have never in my life, and I have been working in advocacy for 10,12 years, I have never heard anybody say, ‘Oh, I want to come to Duluth and be homeless in the wintertime.’ Or even in the summertime,” Davey said last week in an interview with members of the News Tribune Editorial Board.

“First of all, nobody wants to be homeless,” she continued. “And no matter where you go — whether it’s Minneapolis, Duluth, another state, wherever it is — there’s homelessness. There’s homelessness everywhere. And all agencies in all places are struggling with similar barriers and those things that our community is struggling with. So, it doesn't matter what city you are in or where you are going or whatever, you are not going to draw more people by offering help. But you are going to be servicing people, to help draw them out of that situation. That is the goal.

“So we're not calling people here. ‘Calling all homeless people, please come here. Here are some free services.’ Or however people want to stereotype it. We’re serving the community. We’re serving human beings. We’re offering them a leg up to get started in a healthy, safe, stable environment and into a better place so that they are not homeless,” she said. “The homelessness issue is here, and it’s just growing.”

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Joel Kilgour of Loaves and Fishes of Duluth, and a project organizer for Stepping On Up, has heard the claims, too.

“It is a thing that critics in every city say,” he told the Editorial Board. “I’d push back even further (than Davey) and say that if Duluth does something exceptional and finds a practical, humane program to address a crisis that’s nationwide, and we’re successful, that’d be a good thing. That should be celebrated and that we should be proud of. I’m not afraid of that outcome.”

— Chuck Frederick, Editorial Page Editor

Related Topics: HOMELESSNESSHOUSING
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