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Wendy Reuer, Published December 24 2011

Fargo-Moorhead churches to house record number of homeless

FARGO – The Fargo-Moorhead faith community is stepping up to help homeless people in new ways as area shelters remain overcrowded.

Beginning Jan. 1, about 25 homeless people a night will be screened through Moorhead’s Churches United for the Homeless shelter and shuttled to a voluntary church facility to spend the night.

The churches will alternate housing the homeless for one week at a time on a rotating schedule through the end of March.

It’s estimated that 406 individuals are now homeless in the F-M area each night, but local shelters only have enough beds for 330.

Although Old Man Winter by area standards has yet to fully appear – with mild temperatures and little snow so far – church leaders knew they had to be proactive to avoid leaving anyone out in the cold.

“There are people that have not even sought shelter yet,” said the Rev. Sue Koesterman.

Koesterman, of Elim Lutheran Church in Fargo, said the logistics of the church plan came together quickly, considering this is the first time in the area such coordination among churches was needed.

“It’s been amazing,” Koesterman said, adding that local businesses have donated bedding supplies. “Our community is very, very generous.”

Six church boards unanimously agreed to volunteer their facilities. Koesterman said three more church boards will vote whether to join the effort in January.

Individuals will not be allowed into the churches without first being screened through the Churches United shelter.

Churches United for the Homeless Shelter Director John Roberts said mostly single men will be shuttled to the churches. He said the screening process will ensure individuals without any type of chemical dependency issues or violent tendencies are sent. Churches United has a zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy.

“We already know who might be more challenging than others,” Roberts said.

Koesterman said volunteers are still needed to help at the churches. Four volunteers – two men and two women – will be awake and on duty throughout the night.

Homeless individuals will be shuttled back to Churches United in the morning.

Although the churches are helping over the winter and will continue to provide support, “the goal is not for churches to be permanently engaged,” Koesterman said.

Koesterman said that although homelessness has always existed within the Fargo-Moorhead community, with this year’s numbers being higher than before, churches felt they needed to take action.

“I think churches are called to care for another,” Koesterman said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530

How you can help

Volunteers can choose from four-, eight- or 12-hour shifts; the shifts are: 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., 11:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. and 4 to 7:30 a.m. or the entire night. The church host sites will also need volunteers from 7-9 a.m. to clean the sleeping area.

The current homeless shelters need assistance from 6:30-9:30 p.m. to get the shelter ready for the evening by putting down mattresses, etc., for overflow guests at each site. Volunteers are also needed at these sites from 9:30-11:30 a.m. to provide oversight for individuals preparing to shower.

To volunteer, call FirstLink at 211 or (701) 235-7335 (SEEK).

Training dates for volunteers: 

More training sessions will be added as necessary. All training will be at First United Methodist Church, 906 1st Ave. S., Fargo. No preregistration is required.