With a temporary homeless shelter now operating in downtown Bismarck, community leaders are focusing attention on a long-term emergency housing solution.
Bismarck city commissioner Nancy Guy, who is leading a steering committee, said the closure last fall of the Ruth Meiers Hospitality House men’s shelter raised awareness of the need for emergency housing.
“That really brought it to the forefront,” Guy said.
Community leaders realized, however, the need wasn’t only for men. There also was a shortage of emergency housing for families and women who are outside of domestic violence situations, Guy said.
The Missouri Slope Areawide United Way has been filling that need since late October, first through hotel vouchers and recently opening a shelter in a portion of the Sunrise Apartments in downtown Bismarck.
The United Way has a lease for that building through July 1 while the steering committee develops a long-term plan.
Jena Gullo, executive director of the MSA United Way, said that timeline could be extended, if needed. Her staff members are keeping close track of the demographics they’re serving to get a clear picture of the need.
Guy said finding a location should be easier with a long-term commitment than it was to find a building willing to do a short-term lease.
Lewis & Clark Development Group and Lutheran Social Services are in the early stages of helping to secure a building they would lease to a shelter operator.
“That takes a huge obstacle out of our way,” Guy said.
If they choose to remodel an existing building, renovations would likely be necessary, including installing a fire suppression system.
“If we’re going to shelter men and women and families all in the same building, then they’re going to need some separation of those areas,” Guy said.
The group’s primary challenge is finding an agency that's a right fit to run the shelter, Guy said. One member of the committee is contacting agencies to see if any would be interested.
Bismarck, Mandan, Burleigh and Morton counties are expected to be asked to contribute dollars to a shelter.
Guy said she thinks Bismarck ought to take a greater role in helping fund an emergency housing program.
“When you think about the amount of time and money just our police department spends doing welfare checks and responding to calls regarding homeless people, it comes to a lot,” Guy said.