Helping the homeless

A consortium of Minot churches is pursuing city waivers to establish a temporary shelter for homeless men in a house in north Minot.

The house proposed for the Men’s Winter Refuge is owned by First Lutheran Church and has previously been used to board out-of-area flood recovery volunteers. The house is located near the church, which is just east of Broadway on Fifth Avenue.

The winter refuge is the project of churches that have been working with the Minot Area Homeless Coalition on a longer term solution for homeless men.

The churches are asking the city to waive expensive requirements for fire-suppression sprinklers and basement egress windows to be able to operate the shelter this winter, said Vince Grilley with Congregational United Church of Christ, a consortium member church.

The Minot City Council is expected to consider the request in January.

If successful in obtaining waivers, the consortium could house up to 12 men. The churches would fund the project and supply volunteer staff for the shelter, which would be open from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. Men would be screened for drugs, alcohol and weapons at a separate site before being accepted to stay at the house.

Currently, the homeless coalition is incurring the cost of putting up homeless men in motels because there is no local emergency shelter.

“We are basically trying to provide financial relief for them,” Grilley said. “We can house, hopefully, 12 guys for the price of one guy being in a motel room.”

For the first 17 days of December, the homeless coalition has provided emergency shelter to eight men, said Louis McLeod, executive director of the homeless coalition. McLeod said men come to the area because they hear about the jobs but have no place to stay until settled into those jobs. It can typically take at least 30 days to get settled into permanent housing, he said.

Presently, the coalition can offer only a three-night stay. Men who require extended help are sent to Bismarck or Fargo, which have long-term shelters.

“It will definitely increase our options,” McLeod said of a winter refuge in Minot.

The length of time that a man would be able to stay in the Men’s Winter Refuge would depend on individual circumstances.

Ultimately, the Minot churches want to follow the lead of Fargo and Dickinson in establishing rotating men’s shelters among the churches. Congregation UCC, Bread of Life Lutheran, Faith United Methodist, First Baptist and Our Lady of Grace Catholic are considering whether they might be able to provide facilities to host homeless men, while several other churches are supporting the efforts in other ways.

It will take time to get those plans in place because of the need to meet city codes, Grilley said. The house next to First Lutheran is being looked at as an option that can be achieved more quickly and can get a solution in place for this winter.

The Rev. Ken Nelson with First Lutheran said the church may not be in a position to be part of the rotation of church homeless shelters, but it can offer a building that can be used in the short term. First Lutheran plans to try to sell the remaining house for possible relocation next summer. The congregation already has a buyer who will be relocating two neighboring houses that the church owns along Sixth Avenue Northwest.

The church had rented out the houses before the 2011 flood. Now the congregation wants to remove the houses to provide room for a future building expansion.