Fargo's Winter Weather Warming program could expand beyond 2024 if funded by city sources

Photo by: WDAY Radio File (Canva)
Photo by: WDAY Radio File (Canva)

(Fargo, ND) -- Fargo Public Health officials say funding used to operate the Downtown Engagement Center at night is currently supplied by the Federal Government. 

Fargo's Downtown Engagement Center is currently utilizing remaining American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars, given to the city by the Biden Administration, to temporarily transform the center into a warming shelter between the hours of 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. Anyone can stay in the warming center, which can house 40 people inside the community room of the DEC. Currently the overnight warming center does not use any city funds to operate and runs strictly on ARPA funds.

"We looked at what we had remaining and what we could look at for the winter weather program, and what we could offer over this winter season," said Brenda Derrig, Fargo's Assistant City Administrator.

An additional warming area for temporary warming is also available for shorter time periods. This area can temporarily accommodate an additional 20 residents. Chandler Esslinger, the Community Liaison with the Downtown Engagement Center and Fargo Cass Public Health, says an estimated 60 people either stay overnight or use the temporary warming area during an average winter night.  

The federally funded program is merely temporary according to Esslinger and other city officials, who say the remaining ARPA funds dedicated to the warming center will run out by the spring of 2024. However, the DEC and Fargo Cass Public Health Staff are expected to create a report based on the usage of the center, and are to present the report to city commissioners to see if the Fargo will continue the program into the future. 

"If rates of homelessness continue to increase, if temperatures continue to get colder over the next couple of winters, then the need will likely increase," said Esslinger, "It will ultimately be up to The Commission to decide, if this is something they want to invest in."

In previous interviews on AM1100 The Flag, Fargo City Commissioner Dave Peipkorn said about the DEC "It would be astounding to know how many millions in our budget is for all the homeless things that are going on now. The D.E.C is [now] open 24 hours a day. It's a vagrant welcome center, so it's just out of control spending." He has also suggested cutting the program during past commission meetings, accusing the DEC of "enabling" homelessness. Other City Commissioners have largely spoken in support of the D.E.C., with Mayor Tim Mahoney saying mental health advocacy and housing have become some of the larger challenges Fargo faces going into 2024 and beyond. 

Original Air Date: 
Tuesday, January 30, 2024