The North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People eliminated its only two paid staff positions and closed its Bismarck office indefinitely, steps the board of directors hopes will keep the nonprofit afloat.

Diana Hall, chairwoman for the board of directors, called the budget cuts “drastic,” but said they were necessary due to ongoing financial issues.

In a letter to members of the coalition, Hall said the cuts aim to preserve the coalition’s core functions to prevent North Dakota homeless service providers from losing federal funding.

“That would have had a real and devastating impact directly on the lives of some of North Dakota’s most vulnerable people and we could not let that happen,” wrote Hall, who manages veterans housing and employment programs at the Fargo Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

The statewide coalition runs the Continuum of Care program, which administers grant funding through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The coalition also maintains the Homeless Management Information System, a complex information technology system that is required for receiving federal funding.

Volunteer board members will fulfill some of the responsibilities previously handled by staff, including advocacy work.

Starting tonight, volunteers will conduct the annual “point in time” survey of homeless people across the state. Hall said she will compile and report that information.

In addition, the coalition is working to hire a part-time consultant to carry out critical functions. The board’s fear is the staffing cuts could affect the quality of data collection, which could hurt future grant funding, Hall said.

“We’re doing our best so that it doesn’t impact it, but there’s a possibility that future funding could be impacted by this,” Hall said.

The staff positions that were terminated are April Fairfield, executive director, and an administrative assistant. Fairfield referred all questions to Hall.

The homeless coalition had advocated for increased funding in the 2017 legislative session, citing increasing costs to maintain the Homeless Management Information System.

In the letter to coalition members, Hall said the funding to provide services required for the Continuum of Care program have historically not matched the costs.

State legislators in 2017 cut funding to the Department of Commerce for the North Dakota Homeless Grant by 80 percent, from $1.5 million in 2015-17 to $300,000 in 2017-19. The grant program began in 2013-15 with $2 million in one-time funding.

The North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People received $50,000 in grant funding administered by the Department of Commerce for 2017, a level similar to 2016.

The changes to the statewide coalition come at a time when Bismarck-Mandan leaders continue working toward opening a temporary homeless shelter after a men’s emergency shelter closed last fall.

Jeannie Messall, executive director of the Missouri Valley Coalition for Homeless People, said her organization would not be affected by the statewide coalition’s budget cuts.

“We’ll continue to work to solve the emergency shelter crisis that we’re facing right now,” Messall said.

Messall, who shared office space with the statewide coalition, has temporarily relocated while she looks for a permanent office.

Bismarck Mayor Mike Seminary said he’s hoping there will be state funding available in the next legislative session to more effectively address homelessness.

“This is a difficult time for some nonprofits and organizations that provide very, very important outreach and services to some of our most vulnerable and desperate people,” Seminary said.

(Reach Amy Dalrymple at 701-250-8267 or Amy.Dalrymple@bismarcktribune.com)