Williston church shutters doors to homeless

WILLISTON Concordia Lutheran Church in Williston was made to shutter its doors to the homeless for overnight stays for the last time Wednesday when a special permit for allowing the homeless to reside there was denied.

Fire and building safety codes, different for residences than for churches, was cited as the reason for the denial.

Pastor Jay Reinke, the pastor of the church and the principal person in charge, declined to comment on the issue when called Thursday.

A letter that Kent Jarcik, the director of planning and zoning for the City of Williston, sent to the church denying the request to continue to house homeless there was dated Aug. 12 and the church had 30 days to end the program.

“In process of review, it primarily doesn’t meet fire and building code (for residence),” Jarcik said in an interview with The Minot Daily News.

Jarcik was quick to point out that the city had not “banned” the church from housing the homeless, they just had to deny the request at this point.

“We figure, on the simpler side of things, with a sprinkler and alarm system it would make it safe and I would sign off on it,” said Alan Hanson, the Williston fire chief, in an interview to The Minot Daily News. “The city building department will have different aspects and they’ll look, but mine (his responsibility) is simply life safety and those would point in that direction.”

Both of the officials believed there was support in the community to help bring the church up to code and continue to operate as a shelter.

“I still think there is support in the community for fundraising and options,” Jarcik said.

“I support what he’s trying to do. It’s just when it gets brought to me I have to follow code,” said Hanson, adding his personal support.

“I know I’ve been told that I’m supposed to be going to hell for shutting down what they’re trying to do,” he added, with a laugh.

The City of Williston currently has no actual shelters for the homeless in place, despite being a destination for many people seeking work who can’t immediately afford residence there.

“Hopefully the community will step up and do it,” said Michael Carbone, the executive director of the North Dakota Homeless Coalition, to The Minot Daily News on community support for the church and its efforts. “Hopefully they can do it quickly enough so that they’ll have something in place before the cold weather comes again.”

“Williston is one of those cities that doesn’t have shelters,” said Mac McLeod, the director of the Minot Area Homeless Coalition and current board member and past chairman of the North Dakota Homeless Coalition, in an interview. “And they’re being overwhelmed.”

“This is being done in other parts of the state through churches and I know that a couple of churches in Minot are looking into providing emergency shelters, too,” he added. “I think anything that can be done to help alleviate or lesson some of the issues of no housing or people being put through emotional distress is great.”

“Obviously we want anybody staying in any public building to have some sort of protection,” Carbone said. “At the same time we need to protect people from the elements so I think it’s unfortunate that the church had to cease but I hope that in the future they will begin doing so.”

“I think that’s entirely appropriate for a church to offer the opportunity (for housing),” he added.