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Minneapolis' new health commissioner to focus on homelessness, substance abuse disorder and racism

Damōn Chaplin comes from New Bedford, MA, and started with Minneapolis in March.


In March, the City of Minneapolis hired Damōn Chaplin as the city's new health commissioner, the first in 20 years. 

Chaplin comes from New Bedford, MA. During his first 90 days in Minneapolis, Chaplin said he's been absorbing the city.

"Learning how business gets done, learning what people value and what some of the core issues are here, and getting to know people," he said.

His takeaway from his conversations?

"I think that everyone is excited about the future, and I'm very excited about helping them reach their goals and get to a place where we can enjoy Minneapolis the way that we like," Chaplin said.

Chaplin brings a list of issues he's passionate about. 

"Right now we're focused on substance abuse, homeless encampments, and racial equity and health equity within the city," he said. "A majority of the folks that are experiencing homelessness here, many of them either have mental health issues or substance abuse issues. Not all of them, but a good number of them may. For us, our job is to try to help provide a public health approach to support them. That may include sanitation hygiene support, community outreach and education."

He also added that they are approaching the issue of homelessness with a 'housing first' view.

"Which means, that you really don't get a chance to understand a person's underlying issues until they have housing so we try to provide housing," Chaplin said. "And then we try to wrap all the other services that are needed around the person and individuals."

And with Minneapolis having declared racism as a public health emergency in 2020, Chaplin said work will involve diving deeper.

"We really wanted to help set the health department up to be able to respond to health equity issues, being able to close the gap on the racial disparities within the city those are all and still are goals of mine," Chaplin said. "That involves engaging with the community, engaging with staff, involves understanding root cause of why some of this is happening and getting to root cause and developing program services and policies that are going to help mitigate that."

"We are committed to dismantling racism as a public health crisis," he added. "And we're committed to making change and moving the needle forward."

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