Local organizations gathered the crowd to raise awareness of the growing number of people sleeping on the streets.
DULUTH, Minn.- A different type of rally Monday filled the lawns outside Duluth City Hall with tents symbolizing the homeless population, which advocates hope speak louder than words or signs.
“I want city council and the mayor and all of city government to look at these tents out here and realize that these tents represent just a fraction of the people out there,” said Kassie Standing Bear Helgerson, chair of AIM Twin Ports.
Local organizations, concerned residents, and homeless Duluthians gathered to raise awareness of the growing number of people sleeping on the streets, calling for immediate action ahead of winter.
At least 250 Duluthians sleep outside every night according to outreach workers. They say the rally is their way to urge city officials do more.
“Their idea of building affordable housing is great but it’s not enough. If it was enough we wouldn’t have all these people out here,” Helgerson said.
With temperatures dropping already, they’re making three specific requests to city and county leaders.
“To put funding towards 24-hour warming center, 24-hour hygiene facilities, an investment in housing for all,” said Shelly Bruecken of Loaves and Fishes Community. She says some of those have been in discussion for too long.
Last week the City of Duluth announced that in addition to the 24-hour CHUM Drop-Off Center available again this year, City Center West in West Duluth will be activated by the city on nights below 32 degrees from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
But those at the rally say the 12-hour warming center and the already packed CHUM center and drop-off aren’t enough, especially with the impacts of COVID-19 and related restrictions.
“We’re all close to being homeless especially during this pandemic lots of people are behind on rent or facing eviction in the future and to think that this is anything that’s not close to home is a hard thing to believe,” Bruecken said.
While the pandemic is making housing a problem for some now, it’s not new for longtime sufferers of homelessness, like Michael Moore. “You’ll never know what it’s like until you homeless. It’s hard. Real hard.”
Moore says he’s been denied housing without eviction or any other penalty — for almost nine years.
“I’ve been jumping through all they hoops and they still say it’s not enough,” he said. “So I’m still jumping through hoops right now today, trying to get a place for me and my girl to stay.”
Meanwhile those who work outreach and support like Helgerson said it’s not always their stories, but their feelings that are heartbreaking, too. “When they talk about how invisible they are.”
“How you walk down the street and people turn away from you or look down so they don’t have to see you,” she said. “They’re people too.”
While they are pushing for a lot of needed change, some of the displaced population said the rally makes them feel valued, and gives them some hope. “It feels good to have people to support us,” said Moore.
“Y’know I’ve been homeless all this time, and this is the first time somebody gave us a tent,” he said.