A shelter has been found for the homeless in the Bismarck-Mandan area after a long search. The need for a shelter was created in October when the Ruth Meiers Hospitality House closed its men’s shelter. In another development, the Great Plains Food Bank has launched an ambitious program to do more than solve hunger. These developments bode well for Bismarck-Mandan’s future.
Since the shelter closed the Missouri Slope Areawide United Way, Ministry on the Margins and other groups and volunteers have been scrambling to fill the void. It’s a testament to their hard work that no one died or, to our knowledge, suffered serious health problems. It was difficult, but community members stepped forward to help the less fortunate in our area.
The efforts to establish a permanent men’s shelter aren’t completed, but the finish line is in sight. There’s a little irony in the fact that a former hotel that in the past catered to the famous and wealthy will now house the homeless. The shelter will be in part of a 74-unit apartment building on Third Street formerly known as Grandma's House.
The apartment building, known as the Sunrise, was constructed in 1916 and was known as the Van Horn Hotel. It later became the Prince Hotel, known for its famous visitors including Eleanor Roosevelt, Shirley Temple, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. After its heyday, it became the Kensington, later the Karrington Assisted Living center and then Grandma's House, an apartment complex that would rent to people who couldn’t find other housing.
The fact the apartment building will likely no longer host the famous doesn’t diminish its value to the community. As the Tribune Editorial Board has noted before, the community can’t ignore those, who for one reason or another, are struggling to make a go of it. We have a moral responsibility to look after the basic needs of our fellow citizens. The shelter won’t be deluxe, but it will provide a warm and safe place.
The shelter will be in a secured wing and it will be drug- and alcohol-free. The apartments are efficiency units with a bedroom, bathroom and closet, but no kitchens. The unit sizes vary from 300 to 600 square feet. Depending on the size of the rooms they house two to six people. The United Way will rent 13 or 14 rooms, 10 for men and the rest for women and children. The rooms are being furnished through donations and volunteer help.
Jena Gullo, executive director of the United Way, said the organization plans to operate the shelter until at least July and then transfer responsibility to a permanent operator. United Way also plans to offer services to the homeless and to other residents of the building who are interested. A case manager has been hired and they plan to serve meals three nights a week. They will connect people to treatment and counselors and provide help in finding employment.
This is an accomplishment for the community and will require an ongoing effort to succeed. What’s important is this isn’t just a place to sleep, but a destination for a warm place to stay and to get help. Not everyone will make the best use of it, but success will come one person at a time.
Another announcement last week by the Great Plains Food Bank offers more hope for those in need. The food bank explained a new initiative called Ending Hunger 2.0 which involves partnerships with communities and industries. At present, the food bank partners with food pantries, shelters, soup kitchens and other similar programs across the state.
Ending Hunger 2.0 will involve advocacy, community-based solutions and research. One of the food bank’s new partners, Sanford Health, will begin a pilot program in Bismarck and Fargo with birth designers, or registered nurses who work with expecting mothers, to screen mothers for food insecurity and help get them on food stamps and direct them to other resources. Sanford Health also will be providing funding to the Great Plains Food Bank over the next five years.
"This one's easy for us to do, and we have the ability to make a profound impact not only on our patients but a lot of individuals around the state," Fred Fridley, vice president of operations for Sanford Health in Bismarck, said at a news conference.
Overall, solving the homeless problem and eliminating hunger won’t be easy. Residents across the state should be proud these efforts are underway and hopefully be willing to contribute to their success.