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Butte's 'hidden' homeless problem grows amid housing shortage

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Posted at 8:08 AM, May 01, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-01 10:08:05-04

BUTTE — Out behind the Butte Plaza Mall is just one of many remote areas in the city where unhoused people with no place to go will either set up a makeshift tent along the creek or just live out of their vehicles.

“Some are staying at the Rescue Mission, some are staying in abandoned buildings, some are staying in tents, some are staying in doorways,” said Beth Burk, the housing advocate at Action Inc.

The area behind Butte’s mall is hidden from view, so many homeless people stay there. Mall Manager Alana Ferko is always willing to reach out and get them connected with local resources like the Rescue Mission.

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“Nobody seems, nobody seems to want to live this way … sorry … They don’t want to live this way. They don’t. Sometimes they will come to us directly and say they're hungry and we will feed them and we will help them find resources,” said Ferko.

She’s aware how quickly homeless camps spring up in other cities like Bozeman.

“Anytime we see a vehicle behind the mall, we make contact so that doesn’t start to happen here. I mean, it starts with one vehicle, then there’s two, then there’s 20,” said Ferko.

Groups like Action Inc. and Butte's homeless shelter report serving more homeless or close to homeless people. All say the lack of low-income housing is the problem.

“I mean it’s really going to take them building apartments and houses that are low income and they’re going to have to build a lot because we just keep seeing new faces,” said the Butte Rescue Mission’s Director of Operations Misty Johnston.

Volunteers have been serving free lunches to anyone at the Knights of Columbus Hall for years. Many that come through are unhoused. Cheryl Frederick says it breaks her heart to see the lack of compassion shown to them.

“Poor should never be a crime—you know, a lot people think if you're poor, you’re a criminal and that’s just not it. People are super kindhearted, ready to give you whatever they have and they don’t have much,” said Frederick.