Tina Ding
Welcome House specializes in offering shelter to families who might have otherwise been split up into male and female homeless shelters; each room is outfitted with bunk beds, and can accommodate a family of five. (Submitted photo)

Volunteers gather for a photo at the May Keller Williams volunteer project in May. (Submitted photo)

Kelly Gunsch, Executive Director of Welcome House, right, and Board member Barb Bakken, left. (Submitted photo)

The Welcome House building located at 1406 2nd Street NW, Suite 200, Mandan. (Sara Volk)

We live in an ever changing world. An expensive one. Mortgage or rent, car payments or lease agreements, children or pets... and for many, just enough money trickles in each month to get by with little or no reserve.

Despite a lack of obvious signs of homelessness in our community, such as homemade shelters along interstate bridges or shopping carts filled with all earthly possessions, Bismarck/Mandan holds homeless individuals and families. Often the case is simply a rough stretch of circumstance resulting in losing a home, such as loss of employment or sudden termination of leased space leaving no time to relocate. Many of these individuals have no clue where to turn.

In 2004, Welcome House, Inc., sprang of the need to serve single and two-parent families who found they had no option but to separate their family when facing homelessness or when entering shelters. Past shelter options were either all female or all male. Welcome House provides short-term shelter for up to 9 homeless individuals or families at once. A faith-based, non-profit organization, Welcome House leases a portion of the North Dakota Teen Challenge campus in west Mandan.

"Each family has a private, locked room," Welcome House, Inc. executive director Kelly Gunsch said. "Up until Welcome House, families with boys the age of 15 or 16 could not participate as a family. Boys this age were turned away. We opened the door. However, in order to maintain a safe, family environment, we do require our participants to have no outstanding warrants and to not have been registered as a sexual offender."

In order to maximize space and to promote family privacy, Welcome House is set up much like a dormitory. Each family lives in their own private bedroom space - sharing portions of the facility, such as the kitchen, bathrooms, a playroom space and a computer resource room. Families directly utilize the Welcome House for shelter for up to three months.

With an emphasis on providing extensive case management and other additional supportive services for up to three years, families are guided to attaining and retaining permanent housing. A variety of volunteer opportunities exist for community individuals or groups to support the adults in the shelter, including serving at the front desk as a receptionist, kitchen help and meal preparation and more.

"We have community volunteers who come in for specific life skills training, such as practicing how to budget or how to balance a checkbook," Gunsch said. "We've seen other volunteers coach life skills by helping individuals develop a resume, fill out a job application or care for personal hygiene. We are constantly seeking support from the community to help with trainings for the organization. Our goal is to support healthy, functional ways to be successful. This is an area of need; we can always use fresh ideas and appreciate direct community involvement with our families as they develop ways to become successful in their transition away from the shelter."

Following the period of time these families spend in the shelter, Welcome House provides additional case management. Instead of families moving away, finding need for support and starting all over again with a different agency, Welcome House maintains a relationship that encourages residents to return for moral support. Some ways of providing support include food or rental assistance and deposit assistance when renting.

"If times become too difficult, Welcome House then helps to hook them up with an appropriate shelter, offering services to facilitate a building of resources for these families. To encourage self-sufficiency, Welcome House helps them prepare their budget; we talk about what their specific needs and wants are," Gunsch said. "We work on supporting our families in searching for employment, childcare, and transportation... When we consider how we might best serve our families, we consider specific agencies with which we partner, including the Police Youth Bureau or West Central Human Services."

Welcome House is currently seeking both funding and additional volunteerism from our community. Despite state and federal grant monies, the shelter is at risk for closing their doors. "We encourage those who are able to consider contributing to the Welcome House. If not a monetary contribution, other ways include paper product purchasing, feminine hygiene products, diapers, bathroom cleaners and more," Gunsch said. "While we know there are innumerable causes to support, we hope our community will find it in their hearts to donate to the Welcome House!" Contributions may either be made online at youcaring.com/WelcomeHouseND or can be sent directly to Welcome House, Inc. at 1406 2nd Street NW, Suite 200, Mandan, ND 50554.

The Welcome House would like to thank the Bismarck/Mandan community for past, current and future financial support as well as life skills training and other volunteerism.

Tina Ding is a teacher, freelance writer and grad school student with plenty of time for her husband and three children. She also loves photography, scrapbooking, reading and traveling.