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Short on short-term housing in western ND

With more people coming to western North Dakota, officials are looking into alternatives for housing individuals with no place to call home.

"We need some place to make a short-term transition, but it's a matter of if we own it or if we find other ways of doing it," said Joe Wanner, Southwest Homeless Coalition Inc. chairman.

The Southwest Homeless Coalition, which serves eight counties in western North Dakota, has started conversations to utilize units in man camps as homeless shelters.

There are no local plans yet, but Wanner said he has made contacts with man camp companies.

"They would have a list," he said. "If it is open, we can use it. If not, we don't have any. To me, apparently, it is going to be a fluid thing."

Joy Haven, north of Dickinson, will be home to a 600-room man camp. Ken Kubishta, who owns Joy Haven, said he would be willing to set aside 5 acres of his land for sale for a homeless shelter.

"I get five to seven people each day stop in looking for a place to put their campers," he said.

City Administrator Shawn Kessel said he wasn't sure if closed camps could be used to shelter homeless people. There are state and local laws for the use of such facilities, and he said he wanted to make sure those laws are followed.

A Point in Time survey, which was conducted July 27 by the North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People in Bismarck, indicated that 407 people were confirmed homeless in the Dickinson area.

"There is nowhere we can put these families. Right now our hands are tied. We are limited on what we can do for clients," said Michelle Orton, client services director at Community Action Partnership in Dickinson.

Dickinson does not have a homeless shelter. The closest is Ruth Meiers Hospitality House in Bismarck, but Chantel Zeller, the Dakota Center for Independent Living branch office coordinator, said it was full, forcing people further east to Fargo.

Zeller added it is not the people that do not make any money that are homeless, but the people who are making "decent" wages.

"There is a large need for moderate-income housing," she said. "We have some income-based housing and then, of course, the individuals that can afford the rents that are in our town right now. We are really lacking that moderate, middle-ground-income housing."

Kubishta said some people that come to the area may not consider themselves homeless. They just cannot find a place to live.

"These people are not homeless as far as they have homes back home," he said. "Now here, even if you are making $2,000, $3,000 a month and you have a family of three, where do you go?"

Kubishta said communities should try to help people who may not have a place to live as much as possible by getting a jump on this issue, adding western North Dakota is behind.

"Dickinson, Stark County and Killdeer need to step back, look at where we are and fast-forward," he said. "Anything negative that happens is an opportunity to fix it and do something right with it."

With North Dakota oil getting more attention in the country, Wanner said more people are coming to the state without first finding lodging. Wanner added there are people doing what they can to meet housing needs, but one way to help is to spread this important message.

"If you don't have a house, don't come here," he said. "It's not that you are not welcomed, because we really need people to come here. Make sure you have arrangements for housing before you get here because we do not have the resource to accommodate you at this point."

Jayde Hecker, chairperson for the Dickinson State University Student Social Work Organization, said she has faith in Dickinson to work out this issue.

"My wish is that everybody can have affordable housing and ... that is exactly where we are trying to go," Hecker said. "Given the opportunity, I think the community will rise."