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United Way shelter to provide emergency housing in Bismarck indefinitely

Giving a tour of a room at the Sunrise emergency homeless shelter in downtown Bismarck are United Way employees Jarreah Thompson, left, Jena Gullo and Gabby Keller-Hurley on Wednesday afternoon. The shelter serves an average of 40 people a night. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK—It's been two months since the United Way opened an emergency homeless shelter in downtown Bismarck, and the facility already has success stories.

"We have a lot of people who have been having a lot of success with getting employment and getting their own apartments," said Jena Gullo, executive director of the Missouri Slope Areawide United Way.

The facility opened in March as a short-term housing solution for Bismarck, but United Way leadership has since decided to continue the program indefinitely, Gullo said.

"We are a problem-solver, that's what we do. We're not just a fundraiser," Gullo said. "And homelessness is a problem in Bismarck-Mandan. We feel that United Way can fill this gap."

The United Way served 96 people in April, providing 1,207 nights of shelter. On Tuesday night, the shelter housed 29 men, eight women and two children.

"The majority of people stay for a very short period of time and are just in an emergency crisis," Gullo said.

United Way has provided a total of 5,557 nights of shelter since October, when the Ruth Meiers Hospitality House emergency shelter closed. Initially, the agency provided hotel vouchers for people in crisis until the apartment units opened in March.

At Sunrise Apartments, the United Way can house up to 68 people each night.

"We've never had to turn anyone away," she said.

A second licensed social worker recently joined the staff, and the United Way is planning to hire a full-time shelter director and additional part-time staff. Once the facility is fully staffed, the agency will be able to provide more intensive case management to clients.

"We want to give them all the tools and support that they need to get out on their own again," Gullo said.

For 33-year-old Samantha Wild, who is pregnant and homeless, staying at Sunrise Apartments has given her a stable place to stay while she searches for housing and work and keeps up with doctor appointments.

"I'm not bouncing to and from other people's places," Wild said.

People can stay for 30 days for free if they're working on their goals of self-sufficiency, such as looking for work, enrolling in school or looking for housing. After 30 days, they're expected to pay $25 a week or 30 percent of their income.

Bismarck City Commissioner Nancy Guy was leading a steering committee to identify a long-term solution for a homeless shelter. Now that the United Way has stepped up, that group is evaluating how it can best support the United Way.

"I'm pleased with how it's working out," Guy said. "I think that United Way will do a really good job."

Sister Kathleen Atkinson, of Ministry on the Margins, said she's grateful for all of the volunteers and the leadership of the United Way. The stability of having a shelter location instead of hotel vouchers has made a big difference for people, Atkinson said.

"They can get jobs again and hopefully they are then moving on to the transitional housing and supportive housing, which is the more long-term challenge," Atkinson said.

Donations for the shelter can be dropped off at the United Way office, 515 N. Fourth St. in Bismarck. The shelter is in need of laundry detergent, coffee and breakfast bars. For more information, call the United Way at 701-255-3601.