“I have some major concerns about who these people are making these decisions,” a concerned citizen said at Tuesday night’s meeting.
The Burleigh-Morton COVID-19 Task Force has for months been meeting, and identifying a need to house individuals with COVID-19, who may be homeless or dealing with domestic abuse. The task force requested approval for funding of security services from Bis-Man security through the end of the year, a request that became a point of contention at the Bismarck City Commission meeting.
Mayor Steve Bakken said without the security, the motel won’t provide shelter, and without that, many wouldn’t have a place to stay as the weather gets colder. Some citizens were concerned about why security was even needed — fearing forced detainment.
They pointed to language in the contract that reads “each Shelter resident is to remain in their own room at the Shelter at all times. No visitors are allowed in the designated resident area of the shelter other than medical care providers, social service personnel, and food delivery. “
“I get that we want to help those that are in need of a place to stay, but then when we are saying we need security on top of it, what’s the real reason for that security? When they try to leave are they going to be held there?” a Bismarck citizen commented.
Others shared concern that the security would be a slippery slope to further government control– some even likening the situation to North Korea, and concentration camps of WWII.
“This is Bismarck North Dakota, not somewhere in China or North Korea,” a Bismarck citizen commented.
At the start of the meeting, Mayor Bakken tried to dispel much of the misinformation he said was circulating on social media, some of which was repeated during public comment.
“I find it strange that we’d even be talking about quarantining people against their will. This is America,” a Bismarck citizen said before Mayor Bakken interjected that that was not the situation. Bakken clarified again that when individuals request housing, it would be provided — there would be no forced quarantining.
Bakken also strongly rebuked rumors suggesting the plan would allow for detainment of anyone picked up off the street. He noted that the individuals served are requesting shelter and can leave any time, and individuals served are reaching out for shelter, many as they leave the hospital.
Commissioner Mark Splonskowski took issue with wording that he said implied that those housed could not freely come and go.
“Now if this said here that if somebody wants to leave, they are free in so doing. They can leave whenever they want but can’t come back, that’s at least a clarification,” Splonskowski said.
Commissioners voted to alter the language to include the fact that individuals are free to leave, but they can’t come back. Public Health Director Renae Moch, who’s leading the task force recommending the COVID shelter spoke virtually — saying that she and the task force are just working to do what’s best for Bismarck.
“I’ve been called a Nazi, I’ve been called several names,” Moch said. “I am doing my job as the public health director for Bismarck and Burleigh County. And I am doing the best that I can through a pandemic, and we have been, and I am so dang proud of our staff that have been at this since March.”
The budget and plan for the COVID shelter were all unanimously approved by the Commission earlier this month.