United Way building new homeless shelter in south Bismarck

BISMARCK (AP) — Missouri Slope Areawide United Way and Community Works of North Dakota saw opportunity in an empty building in Bismarck. With it, they plan to create opportunities for others. “We’re developing a center for opportunity to help people get out of poverty,” Jena Gullo, executive director, told the Bismarck Tribune. The 3,200-square-foot building will serve as a homeless shelter for men, women and children, but that won’t be its main focus. “Our donors wanted a one-stop shop, multiple services under one roof,” Gullo said. The purchase of the building recently closed. The building sits on 1.7 acres, which gives it room for parking and room to grow. Community Works of North Dakota will be the developers of the project. United Way will coordinate services and sometime in the future become the sole owner of the building. The closing of the Ruth Meiers men’s emergency shelter in 2017 created a need for shelter. United Way now leases 14 rooms in downtown Bismarck, but the new building could provide that shelter as soon as this fall. It is close to dental and health care clinics, near a bus route, and adjacent to a 40-unit apartment complex, Edwinton Place, that will serve the needs of the homeless. Gullo said several United Way programs will be administered in the building. It will house the annual Christmas gift program, book drive, community baby shower, the weekly backpack food program for nearly 1,300 children, Job Service training, support groups, Bible study groups, serve as a volunteer center and at times simply be a safe place to be. If enough money is raised, Gullo said, the facility could be open 24 hours a day. “Our community needs a permanent home for a homeless shelter, and that’ll be one aspect of what were doing here,” Gullo said. “It won’t be the main focus by any means.” Gullo said she and her staff are focusing on what other services they can develop and how to better coordinate those services. When they learned of schoolkids going hungry on weekends, the backpack program was started. When the homeless were out in the cold, they did what they could to find a safe, warm place for them. “Now we want to target the root causes of poverty,” she said. “We want to provide a dignified place to empower families.” Gullo said the acquisition of the building comes with some additional costs. Grants will be sought from several sources and fundraising efforts might have to be stepped up. She believes the community wants and needs the programs that will be housed by the building, and she said she’s amazed by the generosity of the community. When they see a need, she said, they make smart investments to fill it and give of their time and resources when they believe in a solution. “And that’s what we’re offering,” she said. From July 2018 to April 2019, the United Way provided 13,836 nights of shelter.