Two Bismarck-Mandan nonprofits have agreed to help the community get a building for a long-term homeless shelter.
Brent Ekstrom, executive director of Lewis & Clark Development Group, stresses that any plans are still in the early stages but his board and that of Lutheran Social Services have said they would secure a building and lease it to a shelter operator.
When the Ruth Meier’s Hospitality House emergency men’s shelter closed, one of the major hurdles in finding temporary shelter was locating a property to buy, build or lease, Ekstrom said. It wasn’t until recently that Missouri Slope Areawide United Way was able to secure space in the downtown Bismarck Sunrise Apartments.
Jena Gullo, MSA United Way's executive director, said her organization has secured the lease until July 1. The hope is to have the men, women and children who need shelter able to move into the apartments on Thursday, she said.
When it comes to something that is permanent, Ekstrom said Lutheran Social Services and Lewis & Clark Development Group’s no-profit statuses will help save the cities and counties money. The two groups don’t require much if any return on investment and they have access to lower interest loans and money sources.
“We can bring down the cost of the building,” said Ekstrom, pointing out that, in turn, rents can be lower as well.
The two groups already have a partnership working together to maintain affordable housing properties for those with low-income status.
“No one else was stepping up (to help house Bismarck’s homeless population), so our board said let’s take a run at this thing,” Ekstrom said.
A steering committee of local elected officials, homeless coalition representatives, law enforcement and a service provider for Native Americans in Bismarck have been working on devising a long-term plan for what the permanent shelter should include and how it will be operated. Once that coalition arrives at a final determination, Lewis & Clark Development Group will step in with its development experience.
Ekstrom indicated the ideal would be to remodel an existing building.
Bismarck City Commissioner Nancy Guy, who serves on the long-term homeless shelter plan steering committee and who is a Lewis & Clark Development Group employee, said the goal is to have a plan developed, including how it will be financed and who will operate the shelter, in June and presented to the various commissions for approval by July 1. The group plans to host stakeholder meetings in April.
“A lot of decisions have to be made yet,” Ekstrom said.
And the time it takes to build the shelter will be dependent on what services will be included. However, Ekstrom said the area homeless should not have to go through another winter without a place to go.