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Men wait outside the Ruth Meiers Hospitality House shelter at 305 N. 23rd St. in October.

The Bismarck City Commission has identified a potential funding source within their budget to assist with Bismarck-Mandan’s homeless crisis.

On Tuesday night, the commission contemplated designating $10,000 of their special projects fund, which has a current balance of $35,000, to helping shelter the homeless during the cold winter months. The board took no action, requesting first to see a plan depicting how the money will be spent.

“We want to know … if the money is going to be used for rent, where is it going to? Because we will be asked those kinds of questions,” said Mayor Mike Seminary.

Earlier this month, Jena Gullo, executive director for the Missouri Slope Areawide United Way, asked the board for their financial support, noting her office has a “revolving door” of people in crisis, coming to them morning, noon and night.

“Every single night we are meeting with the homeless and we are finding shelter,” she said.

The United Way has been connecting people with emergency housing since Ruth Meiers Hospitality House closed its men's emergency shelter the morning of Oct. 27. To date, the agency has served nearly 200 people, sheltering at least 18 individuals per night, at a cost of $27 per person. The total expense to the United Way, thus far, is $32,000.

The commission’s designation of $10,000 would provide 20 nights of shelter, Gullo said.

With help from Bismarck city staff, the United Way has explored more than 20 locations for a possible temporary shelter, but has not yet identified the best location.

According to Gullo, the process has been “slow moving and a real struggle.” One of the biggest barriers, she said, is the unwillingness of sellers to offer a short-term lease on a building, followed by zoning restrictions.

“We’re still searching. We have some options, but they’re just not very good options right now,” she said, noting the United Way is changing their game plan and looking for more of a long-term solution.

The agency is raising funds and estimates it will cost $262,000 to fill the emergency housing needs through June 2018.

According to city officials, the commission special projects fund is an appropriate funding source for unplanned or emerging issues, such as Bismarck-Mandan’s homeless crisis.

If the fund's $35,000 is not allocated before the end of the year, it is released into the general fund. Another $35,000 will be available in the fund in 2018, which could be used to assist with the homeless crisis.

“This is not a city issue, it is a community issue, which includes everybody,” said Commissioner Shawn Oban, noting he'd like the Mandan City Commission and the Burleigh and Morton county commissions to also get involved.

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General Assignment Reporter