Refuge opens doors to ease homelessness

The Minot Area Men’s Winter Refuge accepted its first overnight guests Wednesday, opening its doors to help to ease the area’s homelessness.

A consortium of Minot churches and other concerned people have established a temporary, overnight shelter for homeless men in a house belonging to First Lutheran Church. Plans at this time are to operate the shelter through May 31.

To keep the doors open, the consortium welcomes volunteers and donations.

Individuals or groups interested in volunteering can contact the Congregational United Church of Christ at 839-1064. People who wish to donate can contribute at First Western Bank or mail a check to First Western Bank, c/o Minot Area Men’s Winter Refuge, 900 S. Broadway, Minot, N.D. 58701.

Volunteers will have access to a brief, online video training. They also will receive training at the shelter that will include information specific to the facilities, job duties and response in emergencies.

Louise Mueller, a registered nurse, will be providing health education to volunteers and guests on basic issues such as diabetes management and first aid. Volunteers also will have access to an on-call nurse in emergencies or in event of questions.

The consortium will be staffing the shelter with three volunteers per shift. Shifts run from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. and 2 a.m. to about 8 a.m. each night. The house is set up to accommodate up to 12 men.

Other volunteer opportunities that don’t require an overnight commitment exist in areas such as laundry and transportation.

Guests will be screened at an off-site location and transported to the shelter, then transported back to the off-site location in the morning. Volunteers are welcome to use personal vans or may drive vans or buses provided by local churches.

The shelter has a no smoking, drugs, alcohol or weapons policy. Prospective guests will be screened for alcohol and drug use and will undergo background checks.

Mac McLeod, executive director of the Minot Area Homeless Coalition, said the rules help ensure safety not only for volunteers but for the guests.

“All homeless people don’t know each other, and they want to be as safe as everyone else,” he said. “They can get a good night’s sleep without worrying about safety.”

McLeod said the shelter is not meant for long-term assistance but rather is designed to be part of the process of helping homeless men become independent. As men are able to work and save money, they may eventually acquire permanent residency as tax-paying citizens, he said.

By eliminating much of the cost of hotel stays for homeless men, the homeless coalition will be able to direct more money to families to prevent or escape homelessness, he added.

The coalition served about 8,000 people in its seven-county region last year, McLeod said. In January 2014, the coalition already had served 1,300 people.

The consortium will be exploring options for continuing a men’s winter refuge in the future. First Lutheran Church plans to remove the existing shelter house this summer to create space for a future building expansion.