BILLINGS- A chill in the air feels right this time of year, but for those without a place to stay at night, the winter chill can be deadly.
The homeless population in downtown Billings faces this problem every day. With the Montana Rescue Mission announcing it will no longer take in intoxicated individuals on cold winter nights, the Community Crisis Center is expecting more people knocking on their door this winter.
But the Crisis Center at 704 N. 30th St. does not have the space to deal with an influx of new faces, and they already hit capacity six times in October, officials at the nonprofit say.
“We have got quite a few services to offer, but in our little, tiny building, we are tapped out at 45 people,” said MarCee Neary, Community Crisis Center executive director.
To address the need this winter, the Community Crisis Center is seeking to partner with organizations to boost temporary shelters.
Their model is a warming center, which uses temporary shelters that are not formally part of the care network but are made available on the coldest of nights.
In this process, the Crisis Center would screen everyone who comes through the doors and identify the lowest risk individuals, those not dealing with any mental health or drug and alcohol problems. Then, through a process called a “warm handoff,” the center would pass them along to community warming center partners.
Neary said most people don’t understand the extent of the homeless problem in Billings, and for most who live and work outside of the downtown core it’s out of sight and out of mind.
“We have a very large homeless problem that I don’t think people necessarily see…Last year alone we had [people from] about 32 of 56 counties come into the crisis center,” said Neary.
The homeless population has led downtown Billings business owners and patrons to express concerns about public safety, leading to a community forum that was held at the Northern Hotel earlier this month.
But according to Neary, the concerns for safety go both ways.
“In my world, the homeless population are the ones being victimized…We have people walk in almost nightly that have been beat up or accosted,” said Neary.
Neary believes the best solution for everyone involved is for there to be as few people out in the cold as possible.
Even though she lives in this world every day, MarCee maintains a sense of hope. She believes that as a community, Billings has the resources to prevent anyone from dying on the streets this winter.
“We do want our folks to be taken care of but I think we can come up with solutions without having to build a full-on shelter. As long as we are working together, providing the services, providing the case management for folks to get back on their feet, and to be able to come together as a community,” said Neary.