WILLISTON, N.D. - Kneeling next to a green Coleman grill, Minnesota native Kyle Heikkila was busy preparing food in a frying pan as the sun set in a pink sky over Williston's Davidson Park. The tent where he sleeps stood a few feet away.
Heikkila moved to Williston from Grand Rapids, Minn., to find a construction job.
He's trying to save up enough money to bring his wife and two children to Williston.
"I've been looking for apartments left and right," he said. But he has yet to find a place for them to live.
Heikkila's tent and others have been popping up on the north side of Davidson Park in Williston this summer. They don't just belong to bicyclists making pit stops in Williston - most of the seven or eight tents spotted at the park belong to people who have been unable to find a home anywhere else in town. Most of the men living in the park moved to Williston recently to find work. That hasn't been a problem for them, but with hotels booked full and apartment buildings with waiting lists, choices are limited.
As Heikkila prepares for another night in the city park, children shouted from the Williston Community Builders playground nearby. The sound of children playing is something Heikkila likes to hear sometimes, and at other times he would rather not have to hear it.
"Hearing kids. That can be a like and a dislike at the same time, because it makes me miss my kids that much more," Heikkila said.
Rolling a cigarette, Louis Dobos recently stood under the pavilion at Davidson Park. A dark-haired man was sleeping next to him, curled in the fetal position on top of a bench, and three men sat on the benches talking. Dobos arrived to town a few weeks ago on his way to Jackson Hole, Wyo. He's a journeyman carpenter who broke his collarbone and is staying in Williston waiting to heal.
"I'm in no big hurry," he said.
Ken Rader traveled from West Virginia looking for work and recently arrived in Williston.
"I was told it's an oil-boom town," Rader said.
Rader has looked for housing and has set up a place in Davidson Park in the meantime because he can't find a place to live.
He said he was told by the local housing authority there's a waiting list of three to 10 months.
"I'm in a Catch-22. I'm trying to get a driver's license, but I don't have an address," Rader said.
According to the Williston Police Department and Williston Parks and Recreation, there is no rule against people camping at the park. Capt. Tom Ladwig and Police Chief James Lokken said neither of them were aware of an ordinance regarding camping in city parks.
In fact, Ladwig said the police department has steered people looking for a place to live toward Davidson Park because camping is allowed there. If anyone were to cause a problem while living out there, the police will take care of it, he said.
Williston Parks and Recreation Director Darin Krueger said he has had no issues with people camping at the park.
In fact, reports of vandalism have dwindled, possibly because people are staying at the park, he said. Krueger is keeping a close eye on the situation.
"It's something I'm watching," he said.
Recently, Davidson Park campers Brian Moore-Gee was hanging out with John Smith and Heikkila. Moore-Gee moved to Williston from Wenatchee, Wash., a few weeks ago and was impressed with all the job opportunities.
"Hell, out here they're giving away work," Moore-Gee said.
But he stays at Davidson Park because he can't find a place to live. Moore-Gee said he is appalled with how much landlords are charging for rent; he had heard of one-bedroom apartments renting for $1,000 to $1,200 a month. He also knows about the lengthy waiting lists for apartments.
"It's insane to live out here, but there's lots of work," Moore-Gee said.
Smith is from Grand Rapids, Mich., and moved to town a few months ago. He said he had been "pretty much everywhere" before settling for the time being at Davidson Park. Smith sums up Williston like this: "Great jobs, bad housing."
Casey Carpenter has lived all throughout the U.S. and now makes his home in one of the park pavilions because he had left his tent behind. Carpenter, like the others in the park, moved here for a job.
He had heard about Williston's famous oil boom, but not about the lack of housing.
"I didn't know nothing about it 'til I moved out here," he said.