Billing charity office still helping homeless amid pandemic

Posted at 9:56 PM, Jun 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-04 15:45:48-04

St. Vincent de Paul in downtown Billings has changed the way it provides help to the homeless and less fortunate due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The charity office provides food, clothing, rental and utility assistance, and works directly with the Social Security Administration to manage money for those in need.

On March 31, Gov. Steve Bullock prohibited evictions of tenants and prohibited landlords from charging late fees on rentals for the extent of his stay-at-home order, which was lifted at the end of April.

Mark Smith, charity office manager at St. Vincent de Paul, said Tuesday that his office is covering payments for individuals who are late on their rent. His office previously only covered payments when tenants received an eviction notice.

But since Bullock's no-eviction policy took effect, St. Vincent de Paul has started paying up to one month's rent for people who are late on payments due to unforeseen circumstances.

St Vincent de Paul continues to assist individuals with money management. Joe Krasowski, department manager and head of the payee program, says his office assists payee recipients by releasing their Social Security money to them in small quantities.

This helps those unable to properly manage their money, due to dementia, poor habits and other illness, avoid running out of cash before the end of the month.

Krasowski says recipients no longer have to walk from the charity office to the bank to receive their checks.

“All of our accounts are being held at the Western Security Bank over here on Broadway and First Avenue North. They have been very kind in allowing us to pre-write checks. We take those checks over to the bank in the morning and then our clients come over later during the day, pick up their spending money directly at the bank rather than coming over here to get a check that the previously were picking up here and then walking over to the bank," says Krasowski.

St Vincent de Paul has made changes to its food service due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The charity office is currently serving 200 to 300 meals per day, seven days a week. Before the pandemic, they were operating food service Monday through Friday, with brunch service on Sundays.

Craig Barthel, executive director at St. Vincent de Paul, says that due to the pandemic, regular volunteers have had to stay home.

“The homeless population that we serve, that we particularly would have fed, has stepped up. They are now serving the meals. During COVID, most of our volunteers, almost all of them in fact, left the building to be able to shelter in home. And so many of our homeless people...We just said listen, if you want this food ministry to continue, you are going to need to step up… Graciously they accepted the challenge, and so we've had almost 20 to 30 people in the last 10 weeks that have really just done an amazing job of serving the food," says Barthel.

Barthel says the nonprofit is also partnered with RiverStone Health to provide services such as counseling, immunizations, mental healthcare, dental care and more.

According to the St. Vincent de Paul website, they are not currently accepting volunteers for meal service and donation sorting.

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