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Dickinson churches band together to help the homeless

Churches in Dickinson are banding together to practice what they preach with a plan to provide temporary shelter at night for up to 15 males during the winter.

People from Dickinson's faith community and other interested parties gathered Thursday at Saviour's Lutheran Church to hash out how to get the shelter running this winter, after the idea was sparked by churches in Fargo that have a similar plan in place to help the homeless survive North Dakota's cold winter nights through March.

"We would hate to think that someone in this community would freeze to death because they had to sleep under a bridge," said Brian Davidson, pastor at Saviour's Lutheran Church.

The proposed idea has churches in Dickinson rotating to serve as a homeless shelter each evening. Churches that do not have the space for sleeping quarters could provide support in other ways, like through donations of supplies.

Ron Dazell, associate pastor at Evangelical Bible Church, thought the expenses would be minimal in the first year since the buildings and buses are already available.

"But money is not the concern right now," he said. "It's how we handle putting it all together that is my question."

The group voted to start out serving only males to keep the project at a manageable size and because, unlike women and children who can receive help at the Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Center, homeless men have fewer options to turn to if they cannot afford housing, according to the discussion.

"If we can get even 15 or 20 men out of the cold at night, that would be a big step," Dazell said.

But the criteria could be expanded later to include women and children.

The plan is to start admitting men for the night on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Those seeking shelter would have to meet several admission criteria and pass a warrant check, which would need to be completed each night of a person's stay to maintain the safety of the volunteers and guests at the shelter, said Dickinson Police Chief Dustin Dassinger, who has been collaborating with the churches on the effort.

It has not been determined who will administer the screening or where it would be conducted, but men who pass the screening would be bussed from the screening location to the shelter for that night.

In the morning, they would be bused away from the shelter to a drop-off location.

The churches were asked to find the vehicles and volunteers to drive the busses and watch people in the shelter at night. A volunteer training manual will be devised by one of the churches for the shelter's night watchers to follow.

One of the next hurdles ahead of the group will be getting the proper zoning from the city so the churches can house the beds, as well as check with the Southwest District Health Unit about health regulations, like spacing of beds, and determine hours of operation for the shelter.

The group plans to meet again for more discussion 1 p.m. Tuesday at Our Saviour's Lutheran Church.