Native Sun News: Keeping homeless safe at Cheyenne River

The following story was written and reported by Ernestine Chasing Hawk, Native Sun News Staff Writer. All content © Native Sun News.

Finding shelter and safety at the Mustard Seed in Eagle Butte, South Dakota. Photo from Okiciyapi Tipi Housing Partnerships / Facebook

Keeping the homeless safe
By Ernestine Chasing Hawk
Native Sun News Staff Writer

EAGLE BUTTE –– The tiny building is aptly named, the Mustard Seed, because great things have been happening there.

The Mustard Seed, situated half a block off Main Street in downtown Eagle Butte, on the Cheyenne River Indian reservation, is where kindhearted individuals have been volunteering their time to feed the homeless two or three times a week.

But last month when another homeless man in Eagle Butte lost his life to the cold, Pastor Pauline Webb of the United Church of Christ and her assistant Adell White-dog opened the doors to the Mustard Seed as a shelter to keep an otherwise overlooked group of people safe.

Last month Kenny Gabe went to a home and knocked on the door but when no one answered, he sat down on a chair in front of the house and went to sleep. He froze that night.

Last winter Chauncey Iron Wing also lost his life to the cold. His body was found in a downtown alleyway in Eagle Butte.

The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe opened the doors to their homeless shelter a couple of years ago, but to stay there, a person must be sober.

But Webb and White-dog did not make that a rule when they opened the doors to this tiny building.

“Part of the reason we opened this shelter was because these people didn’t have any place to go. The ones that get turned away from the tribe’s homeless shelter are the ones that are going to come here” White-dog said. “We didn’t want them going back to the places where they sleep at night like the powwow grounds.” Since opening their doors as many as 78 people a night have found shelter from the cold.

“Yeah they were crammed in here like sardines but they are out of the cold” White-dog, who has been staying right with them, said. “The Tribal shelter is like a Holiday Inn compared to this. They put blankets on the floor and sleep on them. I have had people come in here that were so cold I had to take them to the hospital.”

White-dog said she attended a district 5 meeting and requested help and the district decided to open the doors to the Old Agency Building which is situated off highway 212 next to the pow wow grounds. However the same rules will apply wherein a person must be sober to stay there.

After consulting with Pastor Webb about the tribe opening the Old Agency Building up for the homeless, the pair made an amazing decision.

“We are going to continue keeping the Mustard Seed open for those people who get turned away from the other shelter,” she said.

The decision is amazing because the Mustard Seed has been open 24/7, and the work they do is all volunteer, out of the goodness of their hearts.

Not only are they sheltering people from the cold but they’ve also been feeding them every day. They’ve hauled people to and from the hospital, to appointments, to the laundromat and post office. They have even picked up people who were getting out of jail so they wouldn’t have to walk out in the cold to the shelter.

As the Mustard Seed has no bathroom or running water, they haul water daily and haul people to and from the nearby congregational church to use the bathroom. White-dog said she has even taken people to her home so they can shower.

“These people have good hearts, they are just like every other person,” she said. “They just need someone to talk to, someone to visit with, someone that treats them like a real person, someone that doesn’t judge them.”

When she volunteered to help Pastor Webb with meals, White-dog said she thought more people would also volunteer. But that never happened. So her son, Trevor Three Legs, helps her. They prepare the meals at home and haul it to the makeshift shelter three times a day.

But her selfless work has its rewards she said, “We have about five people that were out on the streets drinking and now they are sober. One, five days, one, six days, another two days.”

And the homeless that have stayed there appreciate the warmth not only from being out of the cold but the warmth from those who volunteer their time and energy to help a group of people who otherwise get overlooked.

“It makes me feel pretty good that we have someplace to stay. They feed us here and treat us really good,” Dion Turning Heart said.

“Being able to stay here at the shelter has kept me from being cold and hungry,” said George Defender and he appreciates that he has also been helped with transportation.

“It keeps us warm. We were kind of packed in like sardines there for a while but we kept warm,” said Lonnie Cottier.

“These people here at the shelter have been very helpful to all of us, so we have some where to go. Some of us got family here but they don’t let us stay with them. Some of us got nowhere to go,” Rose Marie Red Bird said. “I am very thankful to these ladies because it gives me someplace safe to go out of the cold and off the street.”

Anyone interested in donating supplies or money please contact Pastor Pauline Webb at (605) 964-3113, (605) 964 3547 or (605) 200-0234.

Contact Ernestine Chasing Hawk at

Copyright permission Native Sun News

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