Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota to close down

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota, a nonprofit agency that has provided various services since 1919, is closing its doors, citing financial struggles.

The agency said Friday the decision was motivated by the struggles of LSS Housing, an affordable housing program that the agency said drained its reserves and was projected to see further losses.

“This financial pressure has hampered the ability of an essential, faith-based organization to serve its clients, specifically those in primary mission areas such as services to children, families, seniors and others," Bob Otterson, LSS' president and chief executive, said in a statement.

The board of directors on Friday moved to suspend programs and lay off staff. Their resolution “confirms actions leading to a liquidation, including a bankruptcy filing, if necessary," the organization's statement said.

LSSND is expected to lay off 283 employees, which includes full-time and part-time staff and long-term contractors. Professionals in the agency's mental health and behavioral health programs are working to find clients other options and referrals.

Otterson said additional programs will be discontinued in the next two weeks, though five programs that serve “imminent-risk” clients and vulnerable minors will continue until they can be transitioned to another agency or other providers, Otterson said.

LSSND was first established in 1919 as Lutheran Children's Finding Society, which operated as a shelter for orphans and neglected children. The agency has been resettling refugees in North Dakota since 1946, starting with displaced Eastern Europeans after the Second World War.

Sister Kathleen Atkinson of Ministry on the Margins, a faith-based volunteer organization based in Bismarck, said the agency played a large role in helping vulnerable communities statewide, offering services from housing assistance to prison re-entry programs. LSSND's departure leaves a large gap in services available to those vulnerable populations that other organizations would now need to fill, she said.

“It is a broad scope of vulnerable people that are served, so it would not be that one agency that would step in but it is many,” she said. “At a time of huge need, we have lost a large provider.”