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WDAY: The News Leader

Published April 06, 2012, 10:08 PM

Church's homeless overflow program comes to an end

Fargo, ND (WDAY TV) - It is a staggering reality. People living on the streets spent 3,751 stays this winter in overflow housing. Nearly half in churches in the metro that agreed to deal with the dilemma. We first told you about this new program last fall. It ended this week.

By: Travis Skonseng, WDAY

It is a staggering reality. People living on the streets spent 3,751 stays this winter in overflow housing. Nearly half in churches in the metro that agreed to deal with the dilemma. We first told you about this new program last fall. It ended this week.

Curtis Kihlstrom knows what it's like to live on the streets. He's been homeless since May.

Curtis Kihlstrom – Homeless: “Under a bridge or in a tree or where ever.”

With nowhere to go, the unemployed father turned to shelters. He ended up in overflow for two months, thirty-five nights in churches.

Curtis Kihlstrom: “It showed how many kind people there are.”

Nine churches agreed to house the homeless; 4 in Moorhead, 5 in Fargo. 308 trained volunteers averaged 350 hours every week at the rotating churches.

Jen Engquist – Churches United: “Every church did something really unique or special for their guests. There was a different spirit of hospitality.”

The church stays averaged 20 a night and increased every month. From January to April, there were 1,418 stays. Of those, only 98 by women. The rest were men. Each stayed in their own spaces.

Jen Engquist: “These are many, many people who drifted in and some of them drifted out or people who were here in this community and lost their housing.”

Pastor Sue Koesterman – Elim Lutheran Church: “It's below the worst case scenario we were expecting because the winter was not as harsh.”

There were transportation troubles, timing issues, and miscommunication, but overall, the organized effort went smoothly.

Pastor Sue Koesterman: “It really did help Churches United and the other shelters to take some of the pressure off of their overflow and I don't think there's any question, that it really saved lives.”

For Kihlstrom, the 22 year-old calls the church experience a blessing.

Curtis Kihlstrom: “If I hadn't been somewhat religious, I don't think I would have had the resolve to make it through what I've gone through in the last year alone.”

Advocates will meet later this month to look at making improvements and decide whether to continue the project. That's likely a reality. There is one need though - more volunteers all day long.

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