The Ruth Meiers Hospitality House has provided important services for Bismarck-Mandan over the years. The community has become painfully aware of how valuable Ruth Meiers has been recently. The closure of its men’s shelter has created a major gap in assistance for the homeless. A temporary fix appears close, but a long-term solution isn’t imminent.
It’s unfortunate Ruth Meiers fell into financial difficulties and it would have been helpful if Ruth Meiers had warned the community earlier of the problems they were facing. The Missouri Slope Areawide United Way dropped its financial support of Ruth Meiers and the Legislature cut homeless grants by 80 percent. Ruth Meiers encountered cash flow problems and a mounting debt. It’s also easy to question some of its management practices.
By the time Ruth Meiers announced it was closing the men’s shelter and selling the building there wasn’t enough time to establish a new shelter. While the Heartview Foundation, which has a bid to buy the building at 305 N. 23rd St., is willing to allow the building to be used as a shelter through the winter, the logistics of such a plan haven’t been worked out.
What the community needs is a permanent solution. Bismarck Mayor Mike Seminary described the situation as “We are in a crisis, and there are no easy answers.” He also said, “It will take more investments.” Where that money comes from remains a big unknown. A temporary shelter will give the community some breathing room to come up with a solution.
Opening a shelter requires more than a building. Location becomes important because not all neighborhoods want a shelter in the area. Because some of the homeless are registered sex offenders it limits where a shelter can be located. For example, it can’t be too close to a school. Insurance will be needed, money for some staff because it’s unlikely to operate just on volunteers. There will be a need for beds, bedding and other necessities along with laundry services. It all adds up.
Can United Way find a way to provide some financial assistance for a men’s shelter? If they can it would provide a start. The governments of Bismarck and Mandan need to look at their budgets for possible ways to help. While grants appear harder to get, you can’t give up on that avenue. It’s going to take a combination of sources to fund a men’s shelter.
Ruth Meiers needs to get back on solid financial ground so it can continue to provide other services to men, women and children. Ruth Meiers remains an important resource in the community and still deserves support.
If the community can limp through the winter with a temporary shelter there’s a chance to find a long-term solution. It’s an interesting challenge for Bismarck-Mandan. Having people sleeping in doorways and on downtown benches isn’t the image Bismarck-Mandan wants to project. It’s also life-threatening. It’s not unfair to say communities are often judged on how they treat their most vulnerable citizens. It’s obvious Bismarck-Mandan wants to find a solution and has no intention of abandoning its homeless. It’s going to be a tough task that requires an effort by a lot of people and organizations.