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Press Page A6 feels pretty good (compared to the alternatives)

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columns Dickinson, 58602
The Dickinson Press
(701) 225-4205 customer support
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

For many of you, it was tough opening your door to grab this paper in single-degree temperatures this morning.

Did you put on your slippers and step outside or stretch as far as you possibly could without leaving the comfort of your entryway to grab it?

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Either way, you snuck into the elements for just a moment, possibly saying "brrr" on the way.

Or maybe you are sitting with morning acquaintances who have divvied up and distributed sections of the paper around the table. You had to go outside to get where you are and you just happen to be the first one to get to Page A6.

Were you the one who headed to the frost-covered metal paper rack to stick in quarters for the morning news?

Those of you at home came inside after that quick dash out and unrolled the pages, which also carried the cold for a bit. Maybe you let it sit to thaw. It's OK now. You have your eyes on the text and a hand wrapped around a cup of warm, maybe still-steaming, coffee.

You have made it to Page A6 and if we at The Press are doing our jobs, you have forgotten about this brisk morning and for a bit your mind has focused on the content and not your surroundings. By now, all the cold and lingering frost has been released from the pages of the paper and cold isn't crossing your mind.

Charlie Conner cannot say the same.

The Press has received calls and tips that people in a number of areas across the region are staying in tents. In North Dakota? In the winter?

Well, I decided to quickly put these myths to rest Friday.

I grabbed a toasted sub and drove to one of the general locations that we were tipped off to for a quick look, and then would head back to the office to eat lunch. Not one person pinpointed the exact areas, but someone said one of the places was in "north Dickinson" behind a group of businesses.

I found a field with trees at the edge of town and took my chances. My first stop and there is a trail leading to a grove of trees. A bit further back, blue tarps begin to come into view and "You've got to be kidding" comes out of my mouth.

I called a fellow Press co-worker to grab a decent camera. I waited in my heated vehicle and upon her arrival, we quietly traversed the trail, just in case (you never know).

Here we find two tents and a makeshift living area with a table, chairs, a couple of cooking utensils and a few boxes of canned goods and off-brand grain cereals.

A radio is playing from one of the tents and a dog begins to bark.

"Hello." "Hello, is anyone around?" "Hello." After a half a dozen calls, a tent begins to unzip and Charlie Conner and his campmate's dog, Blacky, emerge.

It's often difficult to get people to talk or allow their pictures to be snapped when they know others will read about or see them in newsprint. Charlie wasn't the same. He told his story without hesitation -- without reserve. He didn't bother to put on shoes or slippers and his hands, including one severely eczema-scaled, were exposed to the elements. It didn't seem to bother him.

I wore one glove on the hand holding my notebook and one glove was off to provide a firm grip on a pencil. My fingers hardly functioned as I finished talking to Charlie because of the cold. My nose was running and my ears, cold.

At the end we quick-stepped out of the grove to our vehicles which could provide much-needed heat.

Charlie stayed at "The Camp." He came to North Dakota because he wanted to work and he is working. He is in regular contact with a Dickinson staffing agency which finds him temp work. The company canceled the job he was set to do on the Friday we visited, as the staffing agency confirmed.

And like others, he can't afford the high price of rent, there are no man camps to put people up, and many hotel prices are also expensive or the places are booked.

If I could find "The Camp" with little effort, just how many Charlies are out there?

Charlie has his demons as we all do. However, he deserves acknowledgement for leaving his surroundings and the comfort of all he knew in Idaho in search of betterment.

There is no place for a number of transients to stay. Ask a few local charities how many requests they are inundated with recently.

This column is not designed to make anyone feel guilty. (But admittedly at least one person had a hard time falling asleep after meeting Charlie and thinking about his situation. Though pulling on another warm comforter in a 60-degree home selfishly helped.)

I feel like I should be writing this on an old-school typewriter. Fingers flowing across a near-silent keyboard don't seem to do it justice. With an antique writing machine I could hammer away at the cold keys to move ink from the ribbon and create letters. Then I could slam the carriage return lever violently to jump down to a new paragraph and begin this next sentence boldly.

It's North Dakota where temps prick like needles and will soon stab like knives. Shelter is necessary. Now!

I'm not writing this because I'm close to having the answer. I'm writing this because maybe you do.

McBride is The Dickinson Press managing editor. Email her at jmcbride@thedickinsonpress.com.

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