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An open letter to Mayor Ness and the Duluth City Council

The letter below was signed by nearly 300 people who took part in "A Place to Call Home" concert to honor the memory and legacy of Steve O'Neil.

April 27, 2014

TO: Duluth Mayor Don Ness

Duluth City Council

FROM: Concerned people of Duluth

home sweet home? photo: Deb Holman

At its first meeting of the year, the Duluth City Council, with the support of Mayor Ness, unanimously passed a resolution supporting a Homeless Bill of Rights and committing the City to take bold action to end homelessness.

Three months later, the city has not appointed a single person to the Human Rights Commission, the body tasked with implementing the resolution. In recent days, Mayor Ness has been quoted by the Duluth News-Tribune calling housing projects for the chronically homeless a “distraction,” and urging Duluth to “stay focused on market-rate housing.”

Homelessness remains a life-and-death struggle for hundreds of Duluthians, and a looming threat to thousands more. In March, the Minnesota Housing Partnership issued a report that identified Duluth as the least affordable rental housing market in the state, with an astounding 59% of Duluth renters paying more than they can afford for housing.

Duluth’s housing shortage is felt most acutely by low-income Duluthians. They will not be saved by imagined trickle-down benefits of investment in higher-end “market rate” housing. Please do not let the Homeless Bill of Rights be mere empty words. We urge you to take action today, hand in hand with housing advocates, landlords, the faith community and people experiencing poverty, to build a Duluth in which everyone has a safe place to call home. We can start by creating opportunities for poor Duluthians to have a voice in city policy and funding decisions; improving rental rules to reduce barriers to fair housing; and investing in housing for people who are least able to afford it.

As the late Steve O’Neil said, “homelessness is as wrong and unjust today as it has always been.” Homelessness is an economic, social and moral crisis that cannot be tolerated in a just and democratic society. Duluth can do better.

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