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Dickinson area underpass protects veteran

Peter Bayer said he is homeless. Here he holds a sign asking for donations to purchase warmer clothes in the Walmart parking lot on Thursday.

People flock to North Dakota in search of becoming rich from oilfield work. While some find their dreams, others live a nightmare.

Utah native Peter Bayer, 46, who owned a photography business for 20 years, never thought that he would be homeless.

"When you are a kid, you think you want to be a doctor or a lawyer or a cowboy," Bayer said. "I don't think anyone said they want to be homeless."

Bayer said he has been homeless off and on for six years. When he heard about an oil boom in North Dakota he decided to make his way toward Williston.

While looking for transportation, he sits at various spot in the city begging for money. At night, he sleeps below the underpass of Interstate 94.

Bayer said he has looked for several jobs in Dickinson, but it is hard when he can't find a place to live.

"It's a catch-22," Bayer said. "You can't get a place to stay without a job. You can't get a job without a place to stay."

He added that he tried to get a job at a fast food restaurant, but they said he was overqualified.

Bayer plans to get a job in Williston, hoping he can stay in a man camp while he works in the oilfields.

Bayer said he has had several jobs being a photographer, preparing wild game and trimming horses' hooves.

"During the winter, there is really no work," Bayer said. "You got to do what you got to do."

Bayer said he is a disabled veteran who served in the Army for three years in the 1980s. He added he won't get help from the Stark County Veterans Service Office.

"We got a lot of guys coming back from Iraq, Afghanistan and other places that aren't listed," Bayer said. "If I were to go in and take services from them, how many of those guys would I be taking away from that need it worse than I do?"

Dickinson has no housing for homeless people, said Leslie Ross, Stark County Veterans officer. Veterans must prove they have a disability and are covered under military insurance to qualify. She added to help a veteran, they have to come to the office first.

"We are kind of between a rock and a hard place when it comes to helping a homeless veteran in this area," Ross said. "We do not have the transportation abilities to get them there."

Ross added that Bayer should not try to go to Williston because he will not find housing there either. There is no access to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and there is no homeless shelter.

"He will be as homeless as the other homeless (people) up there," Ross said.

Though the Veterans Service Office cannot help Bayer, Jayde Hecker of Dickinson and the Dickinson State University Student Social Work Organization gave him a coat to stay warm during a club event Wednesday at Walmart.

"My heart bleeds for people that cannot get ahead," Hecker said. "It breaks my heart. What breaks my heart even more is that there are certain people in Dickinson that just don't seem to understand."

People are coming to North Dakota because it is the last place in the country that has real work, Bayer said. He added people may not feel the effects of homelessness because wages are high.

"There is going to be a lot more people out here, if we don't do something, flying a sign," Bayer said.