A few disturbing realities kept coming up in the meeting.
For one, Duluth is experiencing a housing crisis. Shelters are at capacity, and many people are not able to stay there because of behavioral problems, anxiety, not wanting to be separated from loved ones or pets or violating shelter rules. Low cost permanent housing, especially for people with high barriers like felony convictions and mental illness, can take months or years to secure.
Secondly, people experiencing homelessness feel like criminals in their own city. Whether intended or not, they are routinely victim to profiling and discrimination. They are asked to leave park benches, come home to find their belongings ransacked, treated suspiciously in stores, harassed by security guards, and violently attacked without feeling that they will ever get justice. And they don't feel like they have a voice in decisions that affect their lives.
In response, a group of people experiencing homelessness, advocates, and city and county officials began meeting weekly to brainstorm a community response to the homeless crisis. The first order of business is to make sure all people in Duluth are treated fairly and given a voice in their own decisions.
On January 13th, the Duluth City Council will vote on an resolution of intent calling for the creation of a Homeless Bill of Rights and city Commission to End Hunger, Homelessness and Poverty. The Bill of Rights will write into law legal protections for people experiencing homelessness, including the right to move and rest freely in public spaces. The Commission will give a permanent voice to poor people in city policy decisions.
|Duluth Homeless Memorial 2013. Photo: Deb Holman|
What you can do:
1. Sign the online petition tinyurl.com/DuluthHomeless. Then share the petition with friends by email and social networks.
2. Ask your church, business or organization to endorse the petition. Contact Loaves & Fishes at firstname.lastname@example.org with endorsements.
3. Call your city councilor and politely ask them to support the Homeless Bill of Rights and Commission to End Hunger, Homelessness and Poverty. Remind them that there are homeless and poor people in every council district, and that everyone in our community deserves respect and a voice in policy decisions. You can find their information here.
4. Attend the Duluth City Council meeting on January 13 to show your support. Gather at 6:30pm inside City Hall.