The Mandan Planning and Zoning Commission’s rejection of a special use permit for a temporary homeless shelter shouldn’t be considered a major setback. Instead, the Monday night vote should be seen as another step in the process of finding a solution for housing homeless men.
The North Dakota Adult and Teen Challenge offered space in its building at 1406 Second St. N.W. Residents filled the commission room to object, citing the closeness of a day care and two elementary schools. Residents voiced safety concerns about men with criminal records being in the neighborhood. To some it may sound like a "not in my backyard" reaction, but residents had valid objections.
That’s one of the challenges of finding a location for a homeless shelter and staffing it. While Teen Challenge should be commended for its offer, the location of the building isn’t the most accessible for men lacking transportation and money. Combined with the concerns of the residents the unanimous vote makes sense. So it’s back to the drawing board for Bismarck-Mandan officials and homeless advocates.
Fortunately, the Missouri Slope Areawide United Way has been providing assistance for the homeless since Ruth Meiers Hospitality House closed its men's emergency shelter on Oct. 27. Ministry on the Margins also has been helping the men. The goal at the moment is to establish a temporary shelter and then work on a long-term solution. Jena Gullo, executive director for the United Way, estimates it would cost $90,000 to operate a shelter through April.
Bismarck Mayor Mike Seminary says he would support the city partnering financially on an emergency shelter, but it would require a strong management plan. Seminary said a short-term shelter could help the city plan for a long-range solution. "It is not going to go away after spring comes," Seminary said at a recent city commission meeting. He also suggested any facility also focus on intoxication management. Seminary said the city needs both emergency housing and a better way for police responding to emergency room calls to deal with people who are intoxicated. Often when police officers respond to intoxication cases they must wait at hospitals for the person to be examined. In many cases police don’t have any other option but putting the person in a jail cell for eight hours.
The mayor is right to say the city needs a better way of dealing with the situation. Whether combining a homeless shelter and intoxication management facility in the same building is the best approach needs to be debated.
We also can be thankful for the recent mild weather. While it’s still not a good time to be out at night, at least the weather isn’t as dangerously cold.
The Tribune Editorial Board urged city leaders to get involved in finding a solution and they have done so. It’s not an easy problem to solve, but hopefully a temporary solution can be found soon. Finding the right location and getting the funding are tough tasks, but they can be accomplished.