Damōn Chaplin recently became Minneapolis’ new health commissioner, taking over for Gretchen Musicant who retired at the end of 2021. Mayor Jacob Frey nominated Chaplin for the position, and the City Council confirmed him. Raised in poverty, Chaplin became interested in public health after the deaths of his parents. Before moving to Minneapolis, he worked as the director of the health department in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Chaplin pursued the Minneapolis position after realizing a shared mission and values with Frey and other city leaders. In particular, he believes that addressing substance abuse, homelessness, and racial equity are critical to the city’s success. In New Bedford, Chaplin focused on implementing an opioid addiction plan and served on a statewide advisory board on opioid settlement funds. He hopes to bring some of the strategies that worked in New Bedford to Minneapolis.
Chaplin plans to coordinate with Hennepin County’s continuum of care approach to reduce homelessness in the city. He aims to move toward “functional zero,” where homelessness becomes rare and non-recurring. Bergen County, New Jersey’s approach of providing a single 24/7 facility that offers shelter beds, mental health services, and substance abuse services is a model that he finds appealing.
When it comes to encampments, Chaplin acknowledges that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. A public health approach is necessary in dealing with encampments, and engagement with the people living there is key. Chaplin considers the removal of people from encampments as evictions, which is their home for some.
Finally, racial equity is a priority for Chaplin, particularly after seeing the COVID-19 disparities among BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) communities. He implemented cultural health and pro-equity training for staff in the department and plans to expand this to the community.