Four candidates vying for two open seats on the Bismarck City Commission participated in a respectful exchange of ideas Monday night, and among the issues they discussed was homelessness, as well as underlying behavioral health issues.
Commissioner Nancy Guy, incumbent, said she’d like to see Bismarck appropriate more over time, to assist with the city’s homeless crisis.
“I think the more we participate with the homeless coalition, the nonprofit service providers, county government, the city of Mandan, the state of North Dakota … We can get all of the moving pieces that it takes to address the homelessness, and underlying behavioral health issues, and keep those pieces moving, and help these people get back into a more productive life,” she said.
Candidate Beth Nodland, owner and operator of an archaeological and environmental consulting firm, said that addiction, related to homelessness, needs to be addressed.
“I think the other issue we have to deal with that’s underlying with the homeless issue is the addiction issue,” she said. “We need to also support and expand and address the issue of addiction.”
Nodland said the city needs to find an avenue to help pay for issues relating to homelessness and addiction.
Candidate Mark Splonskowski, a Burleigh County tax appraiser, said Bismarck’s lack of affordable housing, in addition to high taxes and hefty special assessments on low-budget homes, is partially to blame for the increase in homelessness.
“When those things all come together, and they can’t even afford a mobile home anymore, then they have no choice but to be homeless because they can’t afford a home,” he said. “We have to be proactive, not reactive in this situation. We need to make this a community effort.”
Candidate Greg Zenker, a commercial manager for a local plumbing, heating and air company, agreed that it’s a community effort, but also stated that some individuals make a choice to be homeless.
“There may just be a group of people who really don’t want the responsibilities. I mean, no one really wants to be truly, truly homeless but some people don’t want to fit in society either,” he said. “We have to, as a community, come together. We have to do more.”
Commissioner Josh Askvig, whose term expires in June, is not seeking re-election.
Additional topics discussed at the League of Women Voters debate, which featured Cathryn Sprynczynatyk and Robin Thorstenson as panelists and Caitlin McDonald as moderator, were ways to attract and retain employees, improve communication with the private sector and fund infrastructure improvements.
The debate, hosted by the Leaugue of Women Voters and Dakota Media Access, in partnership with the Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck-Mandan Home Builders Association, Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce and the Bismarck-Mandan Board of Realtors, will rerun on government access cable channels 2 and 602HD, as well as www.freetv.org, leading up to the June 12 election.