Winter Refuge successful

The Rev. Mary Johnson, Minot

It is a joy and an honor in this Easter season to share the story of the successful first season, ending April 15, of the Minot Men’s Winter Refuge. We were honored to help the men who were our guests to find new life and hope. We successfully fulfilled our mission to ensure that “No one freezes on our watch!” We want to let the community of Minot know about the difference it made to have this place of refuge; and to express our gratitude to volunteers and businesses that helped to make it function smoothly. We could not have done it alone.

On one of the hottest days of last summer, a group of pastors and other interested people gathered to discuss the possibility of providing some sort of shelter for men who would find themselves homeless in Minot in the coming winter. We began to brainstorm and plan. We learned what we could from providers of shelter in Dickinson and Fargo, and from experiences some of us had had in other parts of the country with national programs like “Room in the Inn.” At first we thought the churches would take turns providing shelter for homeless guests for a week or two at a time. When that did not turn out to be feasible, First Lutheran Church offered us the use of a house. Last winter was long and cold, and we were pleased to have the assistance of the City Council to open in the middle of February.

The Men’s Winter Refuge offered 63 nights of refuge and rest to 23 men, with an average length of stay of 12.5 nights:

– Seven were transient and spent three or fewer nights with us.

– Six arrived without a job or housing, but left the refuge with both.

– Five found temporary work but ultimately left Minot.

– We still had three guests when we closed for the season. Two were within days of obtaining permanent shelter, and were able to arrange for temporary shelter. Both had jobs. One, with a full-time job, is not looking for permanent housing.

– One man came to us with frost-bitten feet, hands and face. He would have lost a foot if not for the intervention of our Refuge Nurse, Louise Mueller.

– Pastor Alex Hoops of Bread of Life Lutheran Church offered suicide prevention counseling to one transient man.

We are grateful to more than 50 volunteers who staffed the Refuge at night; and especially to Vince Grilley, Jay Gunderson, Louise Mueller, Angie Ehlis, Richard Reuer, Derek Hrabak, and Dave Denman, who together volunteered more than 75 percent of those hours.

We are thankful to the following organizations and businesses for their help:

– To Louis McLeod and the Minot Area Homeless Coalition for running warrant checks on our guests and making sure that it would be appropriate for them to stay in a setting like the Refuge.

– To the Minot Area Community Foundation for assistance connecting with an amazing network of citizens sharing our concerns

– To SRT for providing a dedicated mobile phone for the Refuge

– To Dakota Fire Extinguishers for providing us with appropriate fire extinguishing equipment

– To First Lutheran Church for providing the house where the men slept

– To Our Savior Lutheran for use of a van for transporting guests

– To Comfort Inn for laundering linens and bedding for the Refuge, and to Jim and Apryl Davenport for transporting that laundry

– To Our Lady of Grace Church for a very generous financial leadership gift

– To the Congregational United Church of Christ for allowing us to function for tax and insurance purposes as an arm of their church until we obtain our own tax-free status; and to church secretary Beth Pullen for coordinating the volunteer schedule

– To All Saints’ Episcopal Church for serving as the rendezvous point for our guests each evening

– To area restaurants: McDonald’s, Royal Fork, Wendy’s, and 10 North Main, for sharing meals; and to the Lord’s Cupboard for providing snacks

Already we are making plans for the 2014-15 winter season. We are looking at possible venues, as the house we used this year will be moved off the First Lutheran campus as they move forward with plans for expansion. We are looking at several grant sources; and we know that we can count on the community once again to be as generous with time and money as they were this year. We are blessed in Minot to live in a town that takes to heart the words of Jesus: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”