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City considers permit for homeless shelter

The Rev. Ron Dazell speaks during the Dickinson City Commission meeting on Monday.

City and church leaders in Dickinson have teamed up to provide a temporary winter-season homeless shelter for men in the area.

At the regular Dickinson City Commission meeting on Monday, Rev. Ron Dazell of Evangelical Bible Church and chairman of the Dickinson Churches for the Homeless brought the need for a temporary use permit to run a homeless shelter among area churches.

At its next meeting on Jan. 21, the Commission will vote on a temporary permit to allow Dickinson Churches for the Homeless to run its shelter as planned and work out the kinks. A permanent ordinance may be drafted for consideration by the Commission before the next winter, City Planner Ed Courton said.

"It seems to me that, since this year, you're really only talking about February and March to grant a temporary-use permit. It would be granted at the next meeting and we use the two months as kind of a learning period," Commission President Dennis Johnson said. "And then you could craft something more permanent for 2014 and beyond. Chances are no matter how well you try to plan in advance now and craft something, 90 days from now you're going to say 'based upon our experiences, this needs to be done differently.'"

The shelter would be run in February and March to provide a safe, warm place to sleep for up to 15 well-behaved men, Dazell said. There will be two pairs of volunteers supervising each evening. The volunteers will be required to remain awake while the patrons sleep.

The location would change each evening, and patrons will be screened during the day at various locations and, if they pass, will be told where to meet a bus at 9 p.m. to be transported to that night's location. They would be asked to leave by 6 a.m.

"We don't want them just showing up at the church expecting to be allowed in," he said.

Dickinson Churches for the Homeless have been in cooperation with the Dickinson Police Department, which has agreed to have a squad car present at the pick-up location for the first few times, as well as stop by the shelter to visit with volunteers.

Because there is a women's shelter in the form of the Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Center and because many homeless people coming to the area are men, the Dickinson Churches for the Homeless decided to cater to a single gender to keep things simple.

Those in need of a place to stay would be able to be screened at a variety of to-be-determined locations and would be taken in on a first-come, first-serve basis, Dazell said. If they show up at the bus and appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol or in a altered mental state they will not be allowed on the bus. If at capacity, the spot would remain open for the evening.

"As a pastor I've dealt with homeless people who are working and I've dealt with people who are in the midst of looking for work," he said of occupant's employment status, "We don't really know until we are working with them."

While the churches will not serve meals, each site will have three days' worth of basic food in case of a blizzard, Dazell said.

"We aren't trying to be the Hilton for free," he said.

This mirrors a program that churches in Fargo and Bismarck use to take in overflow from those communities' brick-and-mortar homeless shelters.

The program will be paid for through Dickinson Churches for the Homeless with money from donations. Much of the services are already owned by the participating churches, like the buses, or are donated. St. Joseph's Hospital and Health Center donated blankets and laundry services of them.

Katherine Grandstrand
I graduated from Bemidji State University in 2007 with a bachelor's degree in mass communcations, from Columbia College Chicago in 2009 with a master's degree in journalism.  
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