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Two months after opening, Billings low-barrier shelter lessening strain of homelessness

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Posted at 6:02 PM, Jan 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-23 10:36:08-05

Off the Street Shelter has been helping 30 or more homeless people in downtown Billings per night, providing a place to stay, a bed, and a shower for a night.

The shelter opened last November and has since been helping homeless people overcome the struggle of always worrying where they might stay next or if they will be warm one night.

Craig Barthel, site director for the shelter, says that the people who come to the shelter would otherwise be on the street.

"Sometimes in alleys, sleeping in cars, or at the Community Crisis Center, waiting either outside or inside to try and just get some rest," says Barthel.

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Craig Barthel Site Director for 'Off the Street Shelter'

When guests arrive at the shelter, they are given a container where they can put all of their belongings.

"They are not able to put their personal belonging in the rooms. You only walk into the rooms with the clothes on your back just to keep people from bringing things into the rooms that shouldn't be in the rooms. You don't have to worry about someone coming in and stealing your money at night or stealing whatever you have," said Barthel.

Guest are also given pajamas that they are able to wear for the night and offered to have their laundry done.

Berthel said this helps to take some of the stress off of people and to ensure they receive a shower and a good night's rest, with clean clothes waiting for them later on.

Barthel says that he and others with the shelter having been planning to decrease the number of shopping carts around town by offering homeless people "cold-storage" containers.

"Since they have a place to sleep at night, they don't need to be pushing around sleeping bags and blankets and pillows and all that stuff," said Barthel.

He said that since people have had the opportunity to use this storage, there has not been a need for them to grab items daily. They are able to carry the necessities with them, instead of the extras.

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Storage barrels for 'Off the Street Shelter guest'

When the shelter opened, cameras and 24-hour surveillance was put in place. And while those measures are still being used, Barthel says they haven't needed it.

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'Off the Street Shelter' main lobby

"I thought we needed that for people coming in because I assumed that this was going to be a party hotel," said Barthel.

However, Barthel said that people are coming to the shelter at 7 p.m. when it opens, preparing themselves for bed and sleeping until 6 a.m. the next morning to leave before the shelter closes.

Barthel said that along with helping the homeless in Billings, the shelter has also helped to lessen the strain on the Billings emergency responders.

"If I am homeless, it's 3 a.m. and I have decided that I have had it. I'm just so cold, I'm sleeping in an alley somewhere. I'm going to find someone to call 911 for me and I'm going to request an ambulance, because at least I know...that I can get in where it's warm," Barthel said.

Barthel said that he has seen a reduction in the amount of emergency calls.