When newcomers arrive in Williston, North Dakota they often can't find housing immediately; demand far outstrips supply in the bustling oil town. So for over two years the Concordia Lutheran Church has offered job seekers a place to crash.
From the Oil Patch Dispatch:
When they arrive, [Rev. Jay] Reinke gives them the same message:
“I’ll say, ‘I need to tell you that you are a gift. You’re a gift to us. You’re a gift to Williston. Welcome,’ ” Reinke said. “Sometimes men have just started to cry. They have been so alone, they’ve just really suffered. And they haven’t felt welcomed.”
So naturally code enforcement had to go and shut the place down.
From the church’s Facebook page (via Mollie Hemingway of Ricochet):
Very sad tonight. …Our Overnighters will spend their last night in the church on Thursday night. The [Planning & Zoning Department] has determined the health and safety of the men in our church is better served by allowing them to sleep outside instead of in a building without a fire sprinkler system.
… FYI—a year ago, the fire chief said our building was safe for our purposes without a sprinkler system. Two weeks ago, he said it isn't. What a difference a year makes.
From The Dickinson Press:
Bret Schoening, 28, arrived in Williston on the train from Ohio a week ago....
“We just want to come here and make a better life for ourselves and our children,” said Schoening, who spent hundreds of dollars on hotels before going to Concordia this week. “We just want to be honest and work hard and pursue the American dream.”
…An inspection by city planning, building and fire officials determined that allowing people to sleep in the church overnight is not permitted under zoning ordinances.
And the city will not grant a variance without modifications to the facility that the church cannot afford.
A letter from a staff planner outlined the upgrades needed, including being handicap accessible, have a designated sleeping room and showers and bathroom facilities to accommodate the number of people staying there.
In addition, the letter states that the church would need to provide overnight supervision and adequate resources for job searching and counseling.
“You’re raising the bar so high that no churches can help,” Reinke said.
…The men staying at the church this week said they’re unsure what they’ll do…. Some said they’ll sleep in their vehicles, another said he’ll “squat” somewhere until he can return home to get his vehicle.