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Billings remembers and supports homeless, new shelter expected to open in 2024

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Posted at 11:06 AM, Dec 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-22 16:59:10-05

BILLINGS - As the weather will most certainly get colder, a new shelter for Billings' growing unhoused population will soon be opening.

The hotel, on 4th Avenue North and North 26th Street, will offer 20-30 rooms for those in need to stay.

The news comes on the shortest day of the year a day, Dec. 21, when the homeless were remembered across the nation and in Billings.

The sentiment at the homeless vigil says it’s going to take a collaboration to deal with homelessness in Billings.

Part of that would involve Off the Streets turning the 4th Avenue Inn into a homeless shelter.

The hotel, near the back of the Yellowstone Art Museum and across the street from the old federal courthouse, may soon be a low-barrier emergency shelter.

“Anyone can stay as long as they're not an immediate danger to themselves or to others,” said Jim Mack, Off the Streets board chair.

Off the streets works to guide people to get help in several areas, including mental health and addiction.

“By establishing relationships with people, we can help to change their behavior,” Mack said. “And they may not change. But if they're going to change, it’s going to be through relationship.”

Fourth Avenue Inn was once known as the Big 5 Motel and there was a plan to put up tents.

Now hotel management plans to rent out rooms to Off the Streets and the owners would also provide housing.

A note on the door states that it is looking for donations and it would take $83 a week per person to house three per room.

But MTN has heard from other advocates for the homeless who worry this new approach will also encounter roadblocks expressing concerns about everything from city approval to capacity.

Off the Street says the nonprofit has addressed those concerns.

Helping the homeless was part of the Homeless Persons Memorial.

“Nine from our community died this year in 2023, with one more that we added recently,” said Misty LaFranier, Riverstone Health program manager for Healthcare for the Homeless.

National Homeless Persons Memorial Day helps remember those who died while homeless and highlights the need to address the issue.

“Today, on Homeless Persons Memorial Day, is a chance to really recognize the humanity of those who are living on the streets and give visibility to their plight and to help solve the crisis,” said John Forte, Riverstone Health President & C.E.O.

Forte and RiverStone Health hosted the memorial on the Yellowstone County courthouse lawn on Thursday afternoon.

One of the speakers talked about the everyday financial challenges that led to her homelessness, and this could happen to anyone.

“This is about being humble and staying kind and being thankful for what you have,” said Bailey Despar, who has overcome homelessness. “We're all struggling differently in different ways.”

Mack says the new shelter is expected to open in four to six weeks.