Wind chills will be 40 to 45 degrees below zero when residents of Bismarck’s lone overnight emergency homeless shelter are put back out on the streets for the day Tuesday.
“We could freeze out here,” said Chaylynn Arntz, who has been staying at the shelter since March.
Those gusts are enough to cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes, according to Bismarck’s National Weather Service.
It’s the second day in a row Bismarck’s homeless will be sent out in sub-zero temperatures, and even colder winds. The shelter is only open overnight and the places they could normally warm themselves - the soup kitchen is closed, the library closed at noon Monday - shut their doors for the holidays.
Shelter operator, Missouri Slope United Way, does not have the funds to staff the shelter during the day, said Executive Director Jena Gullo, and the charity’s current fundraising campaign is at least $150,000 of what’s needed to keep the emergency shelter operating at all throughout the coming year.
“We’re worried we might even have to close,” Gullo said. “The community really needs it ... We’d love to do it all but we can’t spend money we haven’t raised.”
Ward Hagen, Arntz’s brother and Mandan native, said the shelter has given him a warm place to sleep the last couple days but the center has its downsides, too. And the siblings say being sent out into the elements is mistreatment that borders on inhumanity.
“When people are homeless, you help them. You don’t kick them outside when it’s 25 below,” Arntz said.
Arntz suffers from ailments, including osteoarthritis and a bad left lung. She said, when Ruth Meiers Hospitality House was operating an emergency shelter, letters from doctors were enough to allow her to stay inside during the day. But United Way’s shelter has not allowed it. Monday she was handed a hat, gloves and scarf but then had to go.
Hagen has a pacemaker and he says stepping out into the cold shocks his body.
“They’re playing with our lives,” said Tim Haney, Arntz’s significant other.
Hagen said many have gone to Burger King or McDonald’s to sit and warm up, but without money for food they can’t stay long. They’ve also wandered the mall, which is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., for as long as they're allowed.
“Something’s got to be done,” he said.
Gullo said she agrees it’s not appropriate for homeless in the community to have to go "hang out" at the mall.
“They shouldn’t have to go to library either,” she said, but requests made to other agencies to take turns opening their doors to the homeless during the day have gone unanswered.
“We really need other people to step up,” Gullo said. “People should not be made to walk the streets all day long.”
United Way’s shelter housed 53 people overnight Sunday, Gullo said.
“A community our size does need a 24/7 center,” she said.
To offer that, Gullo said United Way would need to raise an extra $100,000 on top of the nightly operational budget. She said United Way employees volunteered their time in order to keep the shelter open 24/7 on Christmas Eve day and Christmas Day but it’s not something they can commit to every day.
Gullo and residents, like Arntz and Haney, may not agree on the decision to close the shelter during days with sub-zero temperatures but they do agree, if action is not taken, “people are going to die.”
Clarification: Missouri Slope United Way operates Bismarck's lone emergency overnight homeless shelter. The shelter was closed for the day. This is normal policy for the shelter due to the availability of funding.
The shelter was following that same policy Monday and Tuesday when it closed during the day, despite cold temperatures and other homeless services and public buildings being closed for the holidays.