Simplified: A new city task force is trying to better understand homelessness in Sioux Falls. Here's a closer look at the task force's goals and what to expect in its first couple of meetings this week.

Why it matters

  • The creation of this task force was the first goal of Councilor Rich Merkouris when he joined the City Council earlier this summer. Council gave the OK to form the task force in June.
  • The 13-member task force is expected to meet twice in the next week, and then about every two weeks through August and September. The goal is to have final recommendations as early as October to present to City Council, Merkouris said.
  • The task force convenes as nonprofits serving those without homes are spread thin. Madeline Shields, executive director at the Bishop Dudley Hospitality House, said she's seeing an increase in chronic homelessness.
"Our average length of stay in 2022 has been 130 nights," Shields said.

Tell me more about the needs right now.

That's a big part of what the task force is trying to figure out.

Merkouris said he's hoping the task force will bring some "clarity" to the city as to what the needs are in terms of local shelters and housing for unhoused families.

  • The group also hopes to be able to recommend a policy for how the city engages with unhoused people on the street, as well as increasing access to low-income housing units.

On the nonprofit side, Shields said she wants to see the task force consider a "Plan B" for people when the shelters are full.

  • Bishop Dudley is "always over capacity," she said of the 100-bed shelter. And while there's some leeway to squeeze in more people, she can't go more than 150% capacity.
"We need an alternative for people," Shields said. "Because at 8:30 at night – when it's 10 degrees out, and I've hit my maximum capacity – where am I going to refer this person to go?"

What can we expect at the first meetings?

The task force on Wednesday will hear from nonprofits including:

  • The Bishop Dudley Hospitality House,
  • The Union Gospel Mission,
  • The Banquet,
  • The Helpline Center,
  • The St. Francis House,
  • and possibly more, Merkouris said.

Then, on Monday, the task force convenes again for an open public forum to learn and listen to the public.

Who's on the task force?

Here's a list:

  • Rich Merkouris, chair
  • Kari Benz, director of human services for Minnehaha County
  • Mike Curtis
  • Michelle Erpenbach, president of Sioux Falls Thrive
  • Dustin Haber, commercial real estate advisor
  • Anny Libengood, former caseworker with the county
  • Terry Liggens, CEO of the Hurdle Life Coach Foundation
  • Andy Patterson, president of the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation
  • Jessie Schmidt, director of the Better Business Bureau of South Dakota
  • Marshall Selberg, city councilor
  • Curt Soehl, city councilor
  • Rebecca Wimmer, Sioux Falls School District administrator
  • Kadyn Wittman, nonprofit worker and statehouse candidate