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Billings group receives city money for homeless shelter

Posted at 6:17 AM, Oct 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-07 09:55:05-04

BILLINGS - Winter is quickly approaching and that means the growing homeless population in Billings will soon be seeking a place to stay.

Now, thanks to money from the recently passed safety mill levy, the city's low barrier shelter will be an option all winter.

The Yellowstone County Continuum of Care (COC), which helps people who are homeless, will receive some money from the city to operate a low barrier shelter.

The group has been running one for the last couple of years and will once again operate one this winter at First Congregational Church.

The plan is to house 40 people in the back of the church sanctuary.

Last year, the COC, made up of 17 local groups, set up in the basement of First Congregational Church.

The group had run the Off The Streets shelter in downtown Billings for 14 months until the end of 2021.

"The motel that we were operating out of had a catastrophic sewage failure," Boiter said. "It was New Year's Eve weekend and sub-zero temperatures were moving through and we quickly pivoted as a community and made sure people had shelter that was safe."

Boiter says the COC had enough money to run the shelter through April 3 of this year.

But now thanks to the city council approving $210,000, it can now stay open for six months across the entire winter season.

"Rather than saying you must be sober first to get here or you must have a job to get here, we say come one come all, we will help meet your need," Boiter said. "We will help you get stable, we will make sure you have a warm, dry, safe place to stay tonight. And tomorrow, we will see if you're ready to work on some of those supportive services needs."

Boiter said a Billing Police Department and Downtown Billings Alliance survey found 93 individuals who have had 15 or more interactions with law enforcement and/or hospital stays during a one-year period.

She said a low barrier shelter would take burdens off the city and help save millions of dollars.

"Those chronic high utilizers cost the city of Billings and its taxpayers $10 million every year to meet the needs of," Boiter said. "If we can serve even 40 of those or 50 of those or potentially all of those by providing shelter. Then we're saving the city anywhere from five to $10 million a year."

And it's a plan that works with the combined efforts in the continuum of care.

"There is no one of us who can meet this need," she said. "But together, we think we can figure out a way to do this."

Boiter estimates that the shelter will be ready by Nov. 15.