Duluth, like virtually every community in the country, is seeing a dramatic increase in homelessness. When our current homeless response system was built, there were fewer people on the streets and homelessness tended to be a temporary condition: people were in and out of shelter in weeks or months. Unfortunately, due to our housing shortage and disinvestment in services for people living with disabilities, homelessness has now become a chronic condition for hundreds of people who are stuck relying on crowded shelters, living outside, or relying on unsafe and unsanitary alternatives. The traumatic consequences of this experience mean that even when people come up in housing lists, they are rarely able to transition smoothly from the streets or shelter into permanent, independent housing.
Stepping On Up is a 9-agency collaborative plan to address this backlog and re-imagine our homeless response systems to reflect our current reality.
The plan was built around these general guiding principles:
The Stepping On Up plan will not end homelessness as we know it. What it will achieve is to assure that when people experience homelessness, it will be brief and there is a pathway to stability with the greatest amount of support and fewest possible hurdles.
Stepping On Up will be implemented in three stages over 5 years beginning in Spring of 2023.
Establish authorized outdoor safe spaces for those living in vehicles and tents. Sites will be capacity controlled, with 10-20 residents and include:
Phase 1 will also see the addition of street outreach and peer support specialist staff to support residents and connect them to services.
Why not just move people indoors? The most simple answer to this is that there is not enough shelter or housing for everyone who needs it. While we work to increase the number of indoor beds, outdoor villages will help address the urgent public health and safety issues caused by unsanctioned encampments and lack of access to basic hygiene services. We also recognize that people must move at their own pace toward stabilization, and an outdoor village provides a stepping stone for those who are not quite ready for either a lease or for a more shelter.
Create 100 new emergency shelter beds in scattered site, indoor villages where people can work to stabilize their lives toward a goal of permanent supportive housing. This is a reimagining of shelter for our current realities and based on best, people-centered practice.
Phase 2 sites are the place where people can finally rest and breathe easy and begin a process of healing from the trauma of homelessness, greatly increasing their chance of success when they move into permanent housing.
The primary cause of homelessness is the lack of available housing. There is a need for more units across the income spectrum in Duluth, but the need is greatest for those with the fewest resources. We cannot afford to wait for private development to materialize. With the cost of building skyrocketing, we need to look at more affordable and creative models. Phase 3 buildings will: