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In late October a group of men wait outside the Ruth Meiers Hospitality House shelter on 23rd Street in north Bismarck on the second to last night the shelter was open to homeless men in the city.

Tom Stromme

Bismarck-Mandan’s homeless crisis received a financial boost Tuesday night, after the Bismarck City Commission designated $10,000 of their special projects fund to helping shelter the homeless during the cold winter months.

The designation will provide 20 nights of shelter, said Jena Gullo, executive director of the Missouri Slope Areawide United Way. The agency has been connecting people with emergency housing since Ruth Meiers Hospitality House closed its men's emergency shelter in late October.

“We are not a homeless provider but because no one else was stepping up, and out of sincere concern for our community members who do not have stable housing or may be in crisis, we agreed to provide this emergency shelter,” Gullo said.

The United Way has served 224 individuals - 140 men, 60 women and 24 children – and provided 1,199 nights of shelter from Oct. 28 to Dec. 30, 2017. The agency has incurred $42,000 in expenses to date, sheltering at least 18 individuals per night, at a cost of $27 per person.

“When we talk about who it is we’re serving, they’re certainly not just numbers to us,” Gullo said, noting they assisted a pregnant teenager and a couple with an 18-month-old child.

The agency has been offering hotel vouchers to individuals in crisis and estimates it will cost roughly $322,000 to fill the emergency housing needs through June.

Gullo offered the United Way’s help to lead the effort in securing a long-term shelter, with the city playing the supporting role, or vice versa.

“We want to help in any way that we can,” she said. “My biggest concern is we are going to be sitting right here come next winter and there is not going to be a plan.”

The commission plans to discuss a long-term solution at future meetings, with the $10,000 to help with short-term needs.

“I don’t necessarily think our commitment stops at $10,000…until we can start to get our hands around where this may end up, this is what we should do, for now, to help be a partner in the solution,” Commissioner Josh Askvig said.

According to city officials, the commission’s special projects fund is an appropriate funding source for unplanned or emerging issues, such as Bismarck-Mandan's homeless crisis. An additional $25,000 remains in the fund.

(Reach Cheryl McCormack at 701-250-8264 or cheryl.mccormack@bismarcktribune.com.)​

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General Assignment Reporter