Eric Killelea, Williston Herald
Project Heat began sheltering homeless people Monday, offering 10 beds in an effort to help the community solve its growing homelessness issue.
Almost one month after the Williston City Commission approved a temporary emergency homeless shelter at the New Armory, an area church group decided to house homeless in an undisclosed crew camp instead.
On Jan. 14, the commission approved the second reading of an ordinance to issue a permit to Project Heat, which is spearheaded by The Williston Evangelical Ministerial Alliance, The Salvation Army, Saving Grace and New Hope.
Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of using the armory as a shelter. Mayor Ward E. Koeser backed the project, saying the church groups could provide armed security for public safety.
Commissioner Howard Klug voted against the mayor’s request. He said senior citizens working at the Heritage Center were opposed to the idea. Staff at the Williston Area Chamber of Commerce echoed safety concerns.
Although the commission approved the second reading, it was scheduled to conduct a public hearing before finalizing a permit.
On Monday, Koeser said using beds at a crew camp seemed the better option.
“Those concerned with using the new armory don’t have to worry,” Koeser said.
An owner of a crew camp lodge approached members of Project Heat after the last commission meeting, Koeser said. The undisclosed owner offered beds at an undisclosed location and security for the winter months.
The anonymity was the choice of project members.
“There is no direct cost to the city,” Koeser said. Volunteers from the church groups have offered their services to care after the homeless.
Chris Swarthout, pastor at New Hope Wesleyan Church, said this is a “first step in attempting to take care of a much larger need.”
The project launched Monday will run through March, Swarthout said. The group hopes to shelter the homeless five months next winter. The possibility for expansion depends on the success of the project.
“There seemed to be a number of red flags [with operating from the new armory],” Swarthout said. “This is God opening the door through a man camp.”
Homeless people are encouraged to visit with The Salvation Army, where those interested in beds must fill out paperwork, including an application and a background check. People must submit applications by 3 p.m. for consideration.
“There is no promise of a bed since we only have 10 available,” Swarthout said.
If approved, The Salvation Army will inform people when and where they must go for transfer to the crew camp facility. Those approved will sleep in the crew camp, where other individuals may reside, including oil crew workers.
“It doesn’t mean these [homeless] individuals are not working,” Swarthout said. “The just don’t have a home. We realize this is a temporary fix. This is providing warm, temporary places for the individuals to sleep that don’t have housing.”