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Cold weather shelters in Billings seeing a rise in individuals and families seeking warmth

Two individuals walk across a snow and ice covered road carrying their belongings
Posted at 6:03 PM, Dec 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-21 08:18:42-05

BILLINGS — As the temperatures drop, emergency shelters in Montana are seeing a rise in individuals and families seeking warmth.

Billings is expected to see temperatures drop into the negative 20s this week, and with wind chill, it could feel like 45 degrees below zero.

Schools are closing and recommendations have been made to stay indoors—but what does that mean for the homeless?

Kari Boiter, the president of the Yellowstone County Continuum Coalition, told MTN News on Tuesday that the group is planning to open a new emergency overflow shelter on Wednesday. The shelter will be located inside of First Congregational Church at 310 N. 27th St. in Billings.

“We’ve found a space here that has all of the sprinklers required, notification, alarms. It’ll be safe for us to shelter up to 31 people every night all the way through April 30,” Boiter said. "If we have 31, we'll make sure they have a place to stay that's safe, warm, and dry."

The shelter is designed to provide overflow space for other shelters in the area, specifically for those with disabilities, service animals or other special needs. However, if space is available, then anyone is welcome.

The Continuum of Care Coalition is a national organization that works with local service providers to offer assistance to individuals, families, and youth experiencing homelessness.

The vice president of the coalition of Yellowstone County, Kody Christensen, joined Boiter on Tuesday to speak with MTN News.

"Our housing crisis in Billings...has displaced so many people, families, children, elderly, into a position that they weren't in the past," Christensen said. "So now we're trying to do this case management to try and figure out how we can get them off the streets as soon as possible."

Boiter explained that shelters like this one are extremely critical in our area during the housing crisis Montana is facing, on top of a global pandemic.

"We had a pretty large (homeless) population before COVID, but both the health impacts and economic impacts have really impacted people in ways that weren't expected," Boiter said. "We've had just a whole bunch of people displaced from their homes because rents were increased and they simply couldn't afford it any longer."

While the shelter plans to open on Wednesday, donations are always welcome. Clothes, hand warmers, food, toiletries, and volunteers are in desperate need at the church. The emergency shelter is also in need of a metal detector to be donated to speed up the intake process.

Boiter said any donations can be dropped off at First Congregational Church from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

But when the shelters are full, the homeless population is at risk.

Katelyn Anton, a Billings resident, told MTN News on Tuesday that she is trying to collect donations for a family that is living out of their car.

“Their car’s not even running, so they can’t even use it for warmth. They are literally using it as a shell to stay out of the cold, which breaks my heart,” Anton explained. "No family should have to live like that. It's a lot of struggle and a lot of stress."

The family has three children living in the car, and Anton said the family needs warm clothes, blankets, food, and monetary donations.

Anton explained that the family was first living in a motel, but ran out of assistance, and had to transition to their car. But now the car isn't working.

"If we could get them into a hotel room, that would be the kindest thing I could ever ask of anyone. No one should have to be out in this kind of cold, it’s too dangerous," Anton explained. "If people don't have the means to donate, spread the word, pray, put the family on a prayer roster. They need all of the help they can get."

Anton said she and her husband will collect donations for the family and will even drive to donors to collect. She can be reached on Facebook, or by phone at (406) 647-1734. For monetary donations or to view the GoFundMe for the family, click here.

To learn more about the emergency shelter inside First Congregational Church or to sign up to volunteer, click here.

“We have the opportunity not only to serve others, and give to others, but it’s our responsibility,” Anton said. "Give the opportunity for growth."