Chuck Benjamin usually stays warm sleeping in his pickup, starting the engine every couple of hours.

But Thursday, the homeless Bismarck man returned to his truck to find a dead battery.

With temperatures in recent days that reached double digits below zero, or what Benjamin calls “kill-you cold,” sleeping in his truck has no longer been an option.

“Once it hits kill-you cold, 25 below, then you’ve got to get out and move around,” the 54-year-old said.

Benjamin spent the past several days coping with the cold by looking for building lobbies or other places to warm up occasionally. But he’s careful not to stay more than 15 or 20 minutes to avoid getting reported for trespassing.

“You don’t want to be put in jail for trying not to freeze to death,” said Benjamin, as he warmed up Tuesday morning at Ministry on the Margins in Bismarck.

Sister Kathleen Atkinson of Ministry on the Margins said the extreme cold has been particularly tough for the homeless and people who can’t afford cold-weather repairs.

“My car didn't start, I called AAA. His car didn’t start, he’s stuck,” Atkinson said.

Three people who stopped by the ministry on Tuesday said they had no heat or their heat was about to be turned off, Atkinson said.

Others who visited the ministry were in need of warm clothing or food.

James Conant, a seasonal construction worker who has been temporarily without work, visited the ministry’s food pantry on Tuesday.

“If it wasn’t for this place, I would have no food,” the 37-year-old said.

Conant briefly lived in his pickup after going through some personal problems at home, but his boss is helping him with a room at a Bismarck motel.

“I’m just trying to survive right now,” Conant said.

Later this week, he starts employee orientation at a McDonald’s.

“It’s going to get better. It’s only a matter of time,” Conant said.

The Missouri Slope Areawide United Way has seen an increase in people seeking emergency housing with the recent cold temperatures, said Jena Gullo, executive director.

“It really is a matter of life or death,” Gullo said.

The agency, which has been providing emergency housing since the Ruth Meiers Hospitality House closed its men’s emergency shelter in late October, is in need of more financial support and volunteers.

“We know that a lot of people care about our homeless and want to help. Now’s the time to either volunteer or give,” Gullo said.

Donations for the emergency shelter can be made through MSAUnitedWay.org. For more information about volunteering, contact the United Way at 701-255-3601.

The United Way is working on a plan for a temporary housing shelter and plans to give an update at the next Bismarck City Commission meeting, Gullo said.

(Reach Amy Dalrymple at 701-250-8267 or Amy.Dalrymple@bismarcktribune.com)

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