INFORUM.com | WDAZ.com

WDAY: The News Leader

Published November 19, 2011, 09:57 AM

Oil workers seek homes, shelter to escape the cold winter

Dickinson, ND (WDAY TV) -- Walking through a group of trees along a well-worn path on the north side of Dickinson to "The Camp" on Friday presents a contrast to the many prospering businesses only footsteps away. Music sounds from one of two tents huddled in a group of trees. A feisty dog barks from behind a tent door.

By: Jennifer McBride, Dickinson Press, Associated Press, Inforum.com

Dickinson, ND (WDAY TV) -- Walking through a group of trees along a well-worn path on the north side of Dickinson to "The Camp" on Friday presents a contrast to the many prospering businesses only footsteps away. Music sounds from one of two tents huddled in a group of trees. A feisty dog barks from behind a tent door.

Charlie Conner shows his face and shares his situation with The Dickinson Press without hesitation. Though temperatures are hitting the single digits, he says the hardest part about being homeless is "showering." It's been a month.

Boxes of canned food, a table and chairs, hanging tarps and miscellaneous rugs and supplies fill the space, which is surrounded by brown prairie grasses.

The 44-year-old Twin Falls, Idaho, resident hitchhiked his way to North Dakota for work because "there's not much going on in Idaho." Conner began in Williston but left after a few months because there is what he considers too many people. He has been in Dickinson for about a month finding hands-on labor.

"I'm not going back to Idaho or I'm a failure, and I'm not," he said.

Conner has found work but cannot find a place to live. He works with USC Staffing for temporary employment but does not make enough to afford a hotel room or rent here, he said. Conner had a deal on a trailer, which was sold out from under him.

Rosa Estrella, USC Staffing, said 30 percent of USC's clients stay in trucks and campers. Eighty-four truck drivers working through them lived in their cabs this summer, she said.

She is in contact with Conner and sets up jobs for him. Estrella feels bad about his living situation.

"Conner came here for work," she said. "I know he wants to work and he seems like a pretty nice guy."

It's unfortunate Dickinson has no place for those in hard times to stay, she said, adding 99 percent of the company's clients are from out of state and moved to the area after hearing about an oil boom in North Dakota. "The reality in this town, there is so, so, so much work -- the reality is if someone wants to work they can find work. They want to make money -- they want pay," she said.

For the last year and a half the Dickinson Convention and Visitors Bureau has been hit with an influx of inquiries regarding jobs, homes, company names and numerous questions about places for people to lay their heads, administrative assistant Tammy Weiler said.

"We do get people who come in off the street," she said. "I had a gentleman come in last Friday looking for a mission."

However, after calling local organizations, she realized finding a place to stay is hard to do. The closest men's homeless shelter is in Bismarck, she said.

"My heart goes out to them and I wish we had a place that could help house people," Weiler said.

Community Action Partnership used to have a contract with a Dickinson hotel to put up people who need a place for the night, but it was dropped about a year ago, said Duane Wolf, a Stark County representative on a Community Action oversight board.

"There's just no place no more for them to be," he said.

Conner said law enforcement has visited "The Camp" but he keeps the area nice and clean and they give him no trouble. The "residents" use the bathrooms of neighboring businesses or the surrounding fields, he said.

Conner has no vehicle and knows "I have to do something" before winter. The question is what?

He has made friends in the area but doesn't want to be a burden, he said. Until he finds a more permanent structure, his tent will keep the weather off of photos, comforters and the random supplies he is relying on to get him through "even when the snow hits."

Tags: