After nearly two months, Lake Region Community Shelter is on solid footing

Chuck Wickenhofer
The Lake Region Community Shelter is entering its second month of operation, and Board President Karen Nick reports that they have helped seven people find housing.

The Lake Region Community Shelter, which opened May 6, has so far provided food and temporary housing for 15 people in need.

Though most of the referring services have been locally based, according to Board President Karen Nick, others around the state have begun to take notice.

“Most of them (are) local: Human Service Center, Social Services, the police department,” Nick said. “We did get a call from Lutheran Social Services in Fargo, and they (moved) a couple here, because their apartment wasn’t going to be ready for a couple of days. They needed a place.

“We got a call from (Senator) Heidi Heitkamp’s office; one of her workers (knew) someone who was in need,” Nick added.

Of the 15 people who have stayed at the shelter, none have stayed longer than three weeks and many have had success after reaching out to the service.

“I think we’re all very pleased at how it’s going,” Nick said. “We’ve had 15 different people here, and several of them have stayed a couple of weeks. Out of those 15, seven have moved on to housing; got an apartment, got a job while they’re here, which is exactly what we’re looking for.”

Though the shelter has seen their mission succeed in its initial stage, Nick reports that recruiting volunteers has been an issue.

Because the shelter has no permanent, paid staff members, the burden on those volunteers has been heavy. In fact, Nick estimates that 26 volunteers have covered about 600 hours since the shelter opened.

“Like anything else, some people volunteer a lot, some people volunteer a little, which has been great,” Nick said. “But we need to have at least one paid staff member to kind of be a foundation, then supplement with volunteers.

“There are some grants that we’re trying to look into,” Nick continued. “A lot of the grants we’ve worked with so far don’t allow for (the funding) to be used for wages. Our goal is still to do as much with volunteers as we can.”

In the interest of securing funding for at least one staff member, the shelter plans to look to the city for help at next Tuesday’s regular meeting. Though extra funding for a staff member would certainly benefit the shelter, Nick has been impressed with the level of volunteerism from the community, though she’s always looking for more.

“I’m really pleased with the volunteers, and they just keep coming,” Nick said. “I had hoped that each of the churches or the clubs would take a night and staff it, but that really hasn’t happened yet. We’re still working on it, trying to get the word out.”

Surprisingly, the amount of donations from citizens has somewhat overwhelmed the shelter.

“People actually want to donate more than what we can accommodate right now. Everybody has been very supportive; we’ve gotten a lot of blind donations,” Nick added. “We’re hoping that by the time the weather gets cold, we can double the amount of beds we have and be able to stay longer into the day.

Nick also looked to reassure potential volunteers that time spent at the shelter not only has its own rewards, but is fairly light duty. She reports that helping those who have needed the shelter’s services has been no problem, as guests are screened before being taken in.

“There have been a couple (of people) that we couldn’t take in, but it hasn’t been an issue,” Nick said.” We check through the North Dakota court system, and the local p.d. runs a background check to make sure there’s no warrants on them. Everybody has been good with it. The people that we’ve had here have been so nice and so appreciative.”

“This is not prison guard duty or something,” Nick added. “This is more like hostessing; they come in, they have dinner, and then they just read or watch TV.”

Although North Dakota’s homeless population has spiked since the oil boom brought an influx of people to the western part of the state, which may not seem to affect the city, Devils Lake has a significant population that either can’t afford their current housing or are forced stay with friends and relatives on a temporary basis.

The resulting need has made Nick impatient to help as much as possible as soon as possible, and the shelter has provided a place for local agencies to send people that they may have struggled to handle prior to its opening.

“I have to remind myself ‘baby steps,’” Nick said. “I want it all up and running, but the agencies now have somebody to call, someplace to go that they didn’t have before.”