DULUTH, Minn. (AP) — Members of a homeless encampment under a downtown Duluth freeway overpass called on police to back off a threat to break up their settlement, saying they are safer there than if they were forced to scatter around the city.
The colorfully painted gathering spot known as "Graffiti Graveyard" has persisted for years. City spokesman Daniel Fanning said no deadline had been set to dismantle the settlement, but rising police calls and a recent violent fight require the city to address the issue.
"This is not a safe or legal place for people to be living," Fanning told the Duluth News Tribune (http://bit.ly/1boHSIK ).
Isaac Broker, a 20-year-old Army veteran who said he had returned from a tour of Afghanistan three months ago, said he disliked sleeping at a local homeless shelter because it was stressful. He prefers Graffiti Graveyard, where he said 10 to 15 people take shelter each night.
"As soon as I came down here, they took me in," Broker said. "They watch my back and I watch theirs."
Samantha McKinney, 46, said she has been homeless since January, and felt safe at the freeway encampment.
"It can be very dangerous to be out here on your own," McKinney said of living on the street. "When you're alone, you're much more vulnerable to attack."
Duluth's homeless shelter has 46 beds but typically hosts 50 to 60 people per night with overflow sleeping on the floor.
Homeless advocates estimate about 200 people in Duluth live outside in improvised camps. "It's not luxurious by any means, but for a number of people, this is the best they can do," said Joel Kilgour, an outreach worker for Loaves & Fishes.
Fanning said the city will work with other entities to find safe alternatives for people in the encampment.
Information from: Duluth News Tribune, http://www.duluthnewstribune.com