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Winter's here and people are still on the street

People attending the rally for homeless people in City Hall hold up signs blurred by the rain outside. (Photo by Richard Thomas)1 / 3
Volunteers serve a chili dinner after the rally in City Hall. (Photo by Richard Thomas)2 / 3
Attendees applaud the speakers at the rally. (Photo by Richard Thomas)3 / 3

People experiencing homelessness and their supporters rallied at City Hall on Dec. 5. They called upon City Council to establish a Homeless Person's Bill of Rights, to which the council had committed with a resolution in January, 2014. But after three years an ordinance has not yet been passed.

"This is a place where we value everyone. It doesn't matter who you are, what you do for a living or economic circumstance, we are all part of a valued community," said Councilman Joel Sipress at the rally.

After the rally, demonstrators presented a draft of the ordinance to the council at a committee of the whole meeting. If passed, the ordinance would be one of the first of its kind in the nation, according to organizers.

The Homeless Person's Bill of Rights is based on surveys and focus groups with more than 400 people experiencing homelessness. The 11 proposed protections include the right to use, move freely and rest in public spaces, protect oneself from elements in a non-obstructive manner, occupy a legally parked motor vehicle, 24-hour access to basic hygiene facilities, choose whether or not to utilize emergency shelter and speak with an advocate or street outreach worker when questioned by police.

As of Nov. 30 in Duluth, there are 1,457 people on a waiting list for the housing choice voucher and 997 on the waiting list for public housing, according to Jill Keppers, executive director of the Duluth Housing Redevelopment Authority.

Recently released data from Wilder Research shows that both the state of Minnesota and St. Louis County had a decrease in homelessness since the last study three years ago. "But there is still much to do," Keppers said.

Currently there are many agencies in town that work to get people into stable housing, including Lutheran Social Services, Lifehouse, Loaves and Fishes, CHUM, and Center City Housing. The Gateway Tower is being renovated and will include units for youth experiencing homelessness.