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He came to Dickinson to help, now he needs help

Press Photo by Ashley Martin Mike Livengood, from Grants Pass Ore., gets money from a passerby on Highway 22 in north Dickinson Thursday afternoon.

"I'm not just trying to get a buck or trying to get the next dollar for the next beer," Mike Livengood said while sitting at a busy corner on Highway 22 in Dickinson Thursday afternoon.

He holds a sign that reads, "Stranded need gas to get home to Grants Pass."

Livengood has been sleeping in his pickup for about a week, since he arrived in Dickinson and ran out of money, he said.

He came to town to help his ex-wife, but the trip cost more than he expected. Livengood has, for the first time, been forced to beg for money to eat and put gas in his truck, he says.

Apparently he is not alone. Church leaders, government officials and residents gathered Thursday at Gate City Bank in Dickinson to talk about homelessness and they are trying to find a way to help with what they say is an influx in the problem. There were a number of suggestions but no solutions.

Dickinson does not have a homeless shelter. The Domestic Violence and Rape Crisis Center can temporarily house homeless people, but has been turning them away because the shelter is full of domestic violence and rape victims -- its priority. The shelter has room for 18 people.

Local agencies often can't find a hotel room for someone seeking shelter, said Darianne Johnson, executive director of the DVRCC and co-chairwoman of the Southwest Homeless Coalition. The coalition and Rape Crisis Center cover eight counties in southwest North Dakota and none of them have a homeless shelter.

The situation is sad, Livengood said. "Your whole town needs to get together because it's not a problem for just one person; it's a problem for your whole town."

About 20 people came to Thursday's meeting. Creating a foundation, talking to legislators and forming committees are among the ideas discussed.

However, many of those options, along with building a shelter and covering all the responsibilities that go along with it could take years, said Michael Carbone, North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People executive director.

"It's summertime, but when it gets cold and there's no place for these people to go, then we're going to have some real big issues because we're going to have people freezing to death out there," said Maureen Haman, Stark County Social Services director.

Carbone said part of the influx is because people from across the nation are flooding the area looking for work. They may find a job, but also find out there is a housing crunch, he added.

Livengood hopes to be on his way home soon and doesn't want to think about what happens if he is stranded through the winter.

"I just hope we don't have to cross that path," he said.

Johnson and others who attended Thursday's meeting are working to come up with a solution before the cold settles in.

It's unclear how many homeless people are in the city at any given time, because the homeless contact several different agencies looking for help, or not at all, Johnson said, adding she needs to talk to other agencies before giving The Press statistics.

Pastor Scott McKirdy, Dickinson Ministerial Association treasurer, said he has seen homeless of all ages and economic statuses.

"For the first time, last year, the Ministerial's bank account went broke. We were getting hit so hard," McKirdy said.

He added, the account has been replenished.

"We're now beginning to see some of the elders in our community who are being priced out of their apartments," McKirdy said. "That's just really foreign to us, and frightening."

Gloria Fichter-Rau, co-chairwoman of the coalition and direct service coordinator with DVRCC, said some have to choose between getting their medication or a meal. This is all too familiar to Livengood, who takes several medications

"That's kind of scary," he said. "I sure don't want to go to jail over something stupid, like because I'm hungry."

The coalition plans to meet again within three weeks in the hopes of coming closer to a solution.