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Dickinson's churches-operated shelter a test run

With the issuance of a temporary use permit from the Dickinson City Commission on Tuesday, a group of seven Dickinson churches hope to study and understand Dickinson's homelessness problem as they provide a warm place for displaced individuals to sleep.

The Dickinson Churches United for the Homeless, led by Evangelical Bible Church Associate Pastor Ron Dazell, have a strict plan to create a place for 15 men to sleep on cold winter nights.

The permit was approved for a test run to operate as a shelter for the months of February and March. The group plans to be completely transparent during the process and provide a full report of the experiment to the commission in April when it is complete.

"One of the concerns I know is, 'Is this going to bring them into my neighborhood?'" Dazell said. "The truth is ... you don't know that they aren't in your neighborhood right now."

There were some concerns about the behavior of the men that would be guests at the churches.

"Is this something you want to invite into your community?" Dickinson resident Andrew Fish asked. "Whenever we look at the problem of homelessness, we like to think that we're going to help somebody with a family that's just up here trying to get a start. I'm sure there are people like that, but I think you have to look at the possible negative impacts that you might be inviting on the community by opening a center like this."

He said he has had negative experience with the homeless on trips to Denver, as well as behind his home in Dickinson.

"Last November, I come home from -- I was at Runnings -- come home and I find a guy defecating in my alley," Fish said. "I understand the want to help people, but if you have nothing, you have nothing to lose also."

The DCUH plan to screen all guests, change the location of the shelter, transport guests to the shelter at 9 p.m. and from the shelter at 6 p.m. via bus, they will not be feeding guests, who will not be allowed on the bus if they seem to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol or be in any type of altered mental state, Dazell said.

"Rather than allowing them to wander around back there, providing them a safe place where they're monitored by four individuals ... I would rather they were supervised next door to me than sleeping in my backyard," Dazell said. "We think it makes it actually a safer place."

Fish was worried that creating a shelter would only exacerbate the issues of people moving here without housing.

"We already have that problem," Commissioner Klayton Oltmanns said. "We already have NBC news, national syndicated radio shows, news sources all over the world touting the demand for jobs in North Dakota."

Because this is a two-month trial, it allows DCUH to work out any kinks before coming to the commission with a permanent plan.

"I really want to commend the churches and the Homeless Coalition for taking this on," Commissioner Shirley Dukart said.

The extent of homelessness is unknown in Dickinson, but it was estimated that there were as many as 50 homeless people before winter, Dazell said. He was working with a few people that have either found a place to live or have left as cold weather came in.

With the reports and notes DCUH plans to keep, they hope to understand the issue of homelessness in Dickinson more, he said.

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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