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Winter solstace will arrive later this week. It means the days are short and the nights are longer. When you are homeless and need shelter, that combination, driven by North Dakota winter, can be devastating. Finding shelter becomes critical.

The primary place for homeless people to stay in Bismarck-Mandan is Ruth Meiers Hospitality House. For that we are grateful. But if Ruth Meiers would be full, what then?

The “sheltering churches” program, involving 13 local churches, has stepped up to provide places to stay for homeless people, if there’s not room at Ruth Meiers Hospitality House. In addidtion, nearly 70 volunteers have come forward to be trained in staffing the churches as temporary shelters. The churches, if needed, would be called upon in rotation.

It’s a worthy program involving the Missouri Valley Areawide United Way, the Missouri Valley Coalition of Homeless People and local houses of worship. The National Guard chipped in air matresses and advice. The churches may never be called upon to provide that shelter, but if the need arises, the willingness is there.

“Sheltering churches is a plan in place,” said Jena Gullo, executive director of the local United Way. “We hope it won’t be needed.”

People can find themselves homeless for many reasons. It just happens, sometimes despite our best efforts. A North Dakota winter that can make it worse. Conditions on the street can quickly become life threatening in the winter months. That’s an even bigger problem if children are involved. Having a place to go means a lot.

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Ruth Meiers offers a safe place to stay. It’s also a portal for someone who needs other services. Operating a shelter isn’t simple; the staff there is trained in how to respond to different situations that may come up. It reinforces the need for having a basic level of training for volunteers in the “sheltering church” program.

Part of the Christmas story deals with shelter. Joseph and Mary, who was pregnant, were traveling to Bethlehem. They couldn’t get a room in the inn and ended up staying in the stable. It was there that Jesus was born. So, it seems appropriate for local churches to open their doors to the homeless in this season if they need shelter.

Hopefully, it will not be necessary.

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