Updated: October 19, 2021 09:42 PM
Created: October 19, 2021 06:33 PM
Monday night's fire under I-35 was a smoky reminder that there are many people living in the Twin Ports without a home.
There are tents and other makeshift living structures in several sections under I-35 near Railroad Street. A fire broke out around 6 p.m. Monday and completely burned one section.
The camp is on MnDOT land. A spokesperson said they are working with community partners to get the people living there the help they need. When similar situations pop up on city land, multiple departments respond.
"We have a no camping ordinance in the city. Well, one of the big things is where do people go?" Duluth Fire Chief Shawn Krizaj said. "They can't camp, but they don't have anywhere to go. So we've been working with Deb Holman and again, other groups to try to find a suitable place for people to go."
Holman does street outreach for Chum and the Human Development Center. She estimates around 30 people live under 35 off and on.
"It's not necessarily safe underneath the bridge here," she said. "I mean, I'm not saying it's dangerous either. But I mean, something like that that happened last night could have been a lot more serious. It was serious enough as it is."
Chum operates a 24/7 warming shelter. And the city will open one in the Lincoln Park area soon. According to Holman, approximately 600 different people used those two shelters last winter.
"We need housing for people," Holman said. "If we can move them into housing, that would be great. But if they're going to be displaced from here, they're just going to go to another spot. So we need places that are inhabitable and can really meet people's basic needs."
Chief Krizaj said there are safety concerns with homeless encampments. During the fire, firefighters had to avoid needles and make sure propane tanks didn't make the situation worse.
"Anytime you have what we would consider not necessarily safe housing, especially as we're getting into winter, dealing with temperatures now that are getting into the dangerous range for hypothermia, things like that, of course that's always a concern," he said.
Holman said some people were planning to spend the winter under the highway. MnDOT is bringing in cleanup crews on Thursday, but it's not clear whether the whole camp will be removed.
MnDOT employees who were there Tuesday morning said there were no structural concerns with the highway, so it remained open.
The Duluth Fire Marshal has ruled the fire accidental.
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