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GFPD helping homeless find shelter in harsh winter conditions

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GRAND FORKS, ND (WDAZ)--The city of Grand Forks has a new program that aims to reduce weather-related deaths.

It’s a partnership between the Grand Forks Police Department and other human service programs in town.

They call it the Homeless Liaison,  and the goal is to keep tabs on the area's homeless to make sure they are sheltered during the winter months.

"We want to be that final stop, where, yes, we will find somewhere for you to go,” said Grand Forks Police Department Cpl, Justin O’Neill.

Even here in Grand Forks, there is a significant population of homeless people who have nowhere to go to get out of the elements.

"As far as us finding people, it's almost nightly, where someone might be out. It's too cold for them to go outside, or maybe they've been banned from a certain place--who knows. but it is very common for our patrol officers to encounter these people,” said O’Neill.

For the first winter, GFPD and other local organizations are now looking out for them and finding them shelter.

"Law enforcement, other service agencies, faith based organizations, and the Mission -- we'll go out in the community and try and find places where we know people have been hanging out during the daytime to try and find them and encourage them to come in, seek shelter, access services and to really identify who they are so we can go check on them if the weather gets bad,” said Northlands Rescue Mission Director, Sue Shirek.

The idea came about last spring, after three different bodies of homeless people were found in the Greenway due to harsh conditions.

Now, after vulnerable homeless people have been picked up, the are taken to the Northlands Rescue Mission, Social Detox center, or any church group in town willing to take them in for the night.

"I mean they've been miracle workers lately,” said O’Neill.

So far, the program is working well. The mission is using its front lobby for shelter if overbooked or if someone has been temporarily suspended for breaking rules.

So far there have been no weather-related fatalities this year.

"Police are all about public safety, and we don't want to see anymore deaths due to the cold. Grand Forks North Dakota is known for its cold, so we really want to do our best to insure that our resources are also going to these people who may be vulnerable. Um, they've fallen on bad times, and they need help to go anywhere,” said O’Neill.

The Grand Forks Police Department tells me that a lot of times, homeless decline shelter by choice. Luckily however, they have a handful of good negotiators on their team and so far they have been able to convince even the most stubborn people to seek shelter from the cold.