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Terry Pierson, left, and Jeff Fandrich talk inside the warmth of a room at a Bismarck motel on Monday about their continued effort to find a more stable living situation after the emergency shelter operated by Ruth Meiers Hospitality House closed last week. Pierson has been sleeping in his car or staying with friends while with donated money Fandrich has been staying at the motel with a roommate. Fandrich and the roommate are packed up Tuesday morning with no real living situation in place. 

MIKE MCCLEARY, TRIBUNE

Some of Bismarck-Mandan’s homeless are out in the cold and it’s time for the community to act. There was notice that the Ruth Meiers men’s shelter would be closing, but a solution eluded those seeking answers.

Now, we have men sleeping in parks, cars and doorways. They slip into businesses to warm up during nights when the temperatures dip in the 20s and the winds reach the 40s.

Having homeless people in Bismarck-Mandan isn’t new. The homeless have been tracked for some time and there are counts on how many people live on the streets of North Dakota’s cities. It is new to know that the only shelter that at one time housed 30 to 70 men a night has closed with no replacement available.

Admittedly, many of the homeless are in their situation because of their own actions. They have stumbled in life and, for one reason or another, have been unable to right themselves. Some have been released from prison and haven’t had an opportunity to get established. There are probably a few among them who don’t want to change their lifestyles.

A variety of organizations have been trying to find a way to establish a shelter. The Tribune knows a lot of work has been going on behind the scenes in an effort to help the homeless. The Missouri Slope Areawide United Way, Youthworks, the Heartview Foundation, Ministry on the Margins and other groups have been working on the issue. People do care and are deeply concerned about the situation.

As a community we can’t let a problem continue that results in men bedding down in park bushes without a sleeping bag. In times of natural disasters government responds by establishing emergency shelters. During the 2011 floods there were temporary places for people to stay. The Tribune doesn’t expect our government officials to establish permanent shelters, but setting up temporary quarters seems like a logical step. There should be space that could be found in the Event Center, armory or other community-owned facility. Cots could be used, volunteers recruited and police used as security. It would provide these men a place to stay during the night until the situation is resolved.

Having these men wandering around at night in search of a warm spot isn’t good for anyone. The parks are closed and aren’t intended for “campers.” Residents in neighborhoods by the parks shouldn’t have to worry about who might be staying there. The homeless shouldn’t have to fear getting ill from the cold or dying when the temperatures plummet.

Bismarck-Mandan should treat this like an emergency because it is one. The numbers are small, but lives are at risk. We need to establish a temporary shelter and then find a longterm solution. We need to act quickly because weather conditions could get worse.

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