Groups see only temporary solutions to lack of homeless shelters in Dickinson
In March, Dickinson Churches United for the Homeless completed its first full winter of providing shelter for the city's homeless men, and by their accounts the run was a success. For five months the coalition of 12 Dickinson-area churches offere...
In March, Dickinson Churches United for the Homeless completed its first full winter of providing shelter for the city’s homeless men, and by their accounts the run was a success.
For five months the coalition of 12 Dickinson-area churches offered nightly shelter to a total of 64 men, as many as 15 per night.
But come April 1, as scheduled, the service ended.
“The weather was warm, and the volunteers were worn out,” said Bill Kelly, director of Dickinson Churches United for the Homeless.
Some 200 volunteers put in an estimated 5,000 hours over the course of the winter, Kelly estimated. Resources and energy were exhausted.
The group is already meeting to make plans for the coming winter, but Kelly said the steady volume of guests over the first full season -- the organization offered temporary shelter for two months in early 2013 -- shows a need for a long-term approach to the growing problem of homelessness in Dickinson.
Dickinson Churches United for the Homeless planned to be a “real short-term solution” for the coldest months of the year, Kelly said, but that leaves few viable options for homeless men during the so-called warmer months of the year in North Dakota, where it can -- and recently did -- snow as late as May.
“For men, there’s really no options right now. There’s good Samaritans and there’s some churches that may help people. But, generally speaking, they’re living in tents around Dickinson,” Kelly said. “There’s gotta be a more permanent, paid place for people to stay there.”
Other social service professionals agree.
“There’s more of a need in recent years,” said Kyle Scammon, who works with Dickinson’s Evangelical Bible Church and was a site coordinator for Dickinson Churches United for the Homeless.
Scammon said that even with the warmer weather, he has received at least one call a week from men looking for housing assistance, either before coming to Dickinson or after they’ve arrived for a job and were caught off guard by the high cost of living. He does his best to point them to Community Action Partnership or Stark County Social Services for housing options.
Scammon said that even though Dickinson Churches United for the Homeless was intended to be a short-term fix when it began, churches approached it with the goal of some day creating a permanent homeless shelter.
One option being looked at is establishing a permanent shelter through the Southwest Homeless Coalition and continuing Dickinson Churches United for the Homeless to handle any overflow guests.
“There’s been discussions now for the last couple of years” about building a permanent shelter in Dickinson, said Heather Kelley, a child advocate and case manager at the Dickinson Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Center, a member of the Southwest Homeless Coalition.
“It’s pretty base-level discussion,” she said. “It kind of ranges between whether Dickinson can do a homeless shelter or not, or if the funding needs to be created for temporary and emergency shelter.”
The domestic violence center provides long-term shelter to women and children -- up to two years, though Kelley said some residents have been there as long as three -- but cannot admit men. As a result, families often have to resort to sleeping in their cars to avoid being separated, or the man will go to a man camp while his family stays in a shelter.
Members of the Southwest Homeless Coalition, which includes Badlands Human Services, Job Service North Dakota, Southwestern District Health and others, have been in talks with the city to build a permanent shelter, but a “solid game plan” hasn’t been reached yet, Kelley said, making it difficult to apply for funding and grants.
“I think if there was a solid plan in place to aim for, that would be a huge start,” she said, but for now, she believes that with limited land and few resources for a permanent solution, “emergency funding is going to come before a homeless shelter.”
And that means another year of limited housing options, and another winter of temporary shelter for Dickinson’s growing homeless population.