Updated: July 09, 2018 10:37 PM
DULUTH, Minn. - City councilors took another step in their recent effort to de-criminalize poverty and homelessness.
At Monday's meeting, the Duluth City Council voted to repeal a portion of the city code that made begging or panhandling illegal. Councilors also made it legal to sleep in your car overnight.
"I myself, without the strong support of friends and family would have been homeless multiple times over the years," Eric Lester told the council. "So my question is, what are you as the city council going to do before next winter rolls around to ensure people have the right to rest in public spaces and protect themselves from the elements?"
Elizabeth Brown, who also spoke in support of the two ordinances, said sleeping in her car is an all too familiar situation. She slept in hers for months after fleeing a domestic violence situation, she said.
"I had my car and a couple outfits of nice clothing for job interviews," Brown said.
At Large Councilor Zack Filipovich acknowledged that even with full- or part-time employment, homelessness can happen to anyone.
"Despite a fairly low unemployment number, we do have a number in our community that are underemployed," Filipovich said.
Before they voted, Second District Councilor Joel Sipress said he wanted to make it clear exactly what they were voting on.
"Currently, Duluth city code says that it is illegal to camp, lodge or reside in a motor vehicle. What we are voting on would simply remove the words 'camp' and 'lodge' from that ordinance," Sipress commented. "So I want to make clear that we are not legalizing turning your vehicle into a permanent residence."
The Council agreed 8-0 to make it legal for people to sleep in their cars. Councilor Jay Fosle was absent.
"Without the ability to sleep in my car for months and months, I'm not sure that I would be standing before you today, the success story that I am," Brown said.
Councilors also unanimously repealed the current section of city code that says begging is illegal. City Attorney Gunnar Johnson recommended that the council take the law off the books.
"The soliciation of money is closely intertwined with speech. And of course, the First Amendment protects speech," Johnson explained.
Some councilors and supporters pointed out that police have not been enforcing the current laws anyway.
"If we have this law that's technically unconstitutional, and it's not being enforced anyway, we might as well get it off the books," Michael Elderbrook offered.
Both ordinances take effect in 30 days.
Councilors also want to make it safer for firefighters to do their jobs.
Monday, they approved a purchase of 50 new sets of gear for the Duluth Fire Department.
Jackets cost $1,229 each, and pants cost $1,169 each. Nonetheless, it passed unanimously.
First District Councilor Gary Anderson was voted vice president of the council. At Large Councilor Noah Hobbs took over the presidency from At Large Councilor Elissa Hansen, who is stepping down this month.
Applications to fill Hansen's closed today, and 20 people put their names in to take her spot.
Thursday is the first round of interviews. Councilors will then select three finalists, who will be interviewed before next Monday's council meeting. The new councilor will be chosen at the regular meeting next Monday.
The applicants are:
Updated: July 09, 2018 10:37 PM
Created: July 09, 2018 09:31 PM
Copyright 2018 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved