FARGO — A brief bus ride to the Salvation Army for lunch was instead a bitterly cold 20-minute walk for Scott Griesbach on Wednesday, Jan. 30.
As Griesbach warmed up inside with a white Styrofoam cup of steaming hot coffee and a freshly donated Sandy's doughnut, a banner on the bottom of the TV screen said it was minus 23 in Fargo.
Griesbach said he's understanding of MATBUS, the public bus system in Fargo-Moorhead, deciding to shut down Tuesday evening and all day Wednesday because of the extremely cold weather. "It usually takes a full blizzard to shut 'em down. I know a few people who ride the bus just to stay warm," he said.
Of the people he knows who are homeless and living outside, he said in this weather, they could "go to sleep and never wake up."
"It's too dangerous out," he said, adding that if it had been windy Wednesday afternoon, he would've stayed home. But he likes meeting friends for coffee at the Salvation Army, 304 Roberts St., instead of staying cooped up inside.
During this cold snap, most shelters in Fargo-Moorhead, which usually make their guests leave during the day, have allowed them to remain at the shelters to avoid the cold, especially with city buses not running and public spaces closed.
Maj. Jerry O'Neil of the Salvation Army said more folks were hanging around the shelter because public libraries and West Acres mall were closed Wednesday. Typically the Salvation Army closes when the school systems do — which happened across Fargo-Moorhead — but the shelter instead stayed open.
Pastor Sue Koesterman of Moorhead's Churches United for the Homeless, 1901 1st Ave. N., said overflow beds were set up Tuesday night and would be again on Wednesday due to the subzero temperatures.
"As you can imagine, we are much busier than usual," Koesterman said. "When MATBUS stopped running yesterday afternoon, we encouraged everyone here to shelter in place, so we had a little bit more than typical numbers for overflow guests. This is very rare that public transportation stopped running."
There were about 28 people in overflow Tuesday evening in addition to 90 regular beds at the shelter. Three infants who are only months-old and senior citizens in their 70s are all seeking shelter at Churches United, she said. And with school being closed, staff are coming up with additional activities for school-age children to keep them occupied.
Koesterman said anytime between October and April can be a severe weather emergency for the unsheltered. "For folks experiencing homelessness, this is a life-or-death situation," she said, adding that an on-site nurse is available to care for an increased number of frostbite cases.
The New Life Center, 1902 3rd Ave. N. in Fargo, provides emergency shelter for men. Shelter supervisor Jolee Bosserman said all 115 beds have been full the last few nights and some are sleeping in the waiting room because of the cold.
"Today there are a lot more people in the building because of the buses not running," she said.
Other impacts of the cold include a lack of volunteers, she said, but there's still a good amount of donations coming in, such as hats, coats and gloves.
At Fargo's YWCA, Julie Haugen, chief operating officer, said the shelter for women and children was above its 67-person capacity with 69 people on Wednesday, but the facility has overflow room for 80. The majority of women served at the shelter are escaping imminent danger in a violent relationship.
"We wouldn’t want anyone to risk their health, whether from an abusive situation or the elements," Haugen said.
The YWCA coordinates with other shelters to find space for people if they are unable to stay there, but Haugen said people won't be turned away in these conditions.
"It's remarkable the way our community comes together both during these really drastic climate situations but all year long," she said.
MATBUS announced that fixed route and paratransit services will resume at 10:15 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 31.