(HELENA) Colder weather is on the way to the Helena Valley. Local groups are working to make sure homeless people aren’t on the streets once it arrives.

The operators of the God’s Love Shelter in Downtown Helena said they don’t specifically expand their services when winter starts.

“To us, winter is already here,” said David Miller.

God’s Love is open 24 hours a day and provides free food, laundry and shelter, for men, women and children. Miller said his shelter’s 50 beds are usually full on any given night, regardless of the season.

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One difference is that God’s Love will shift to “winter rules” once the weather gets cold. That means anyone who comes to the shelter will be allowed to stay for one night, usually on the floor. Ordinarily, the shelter won’t let people who are heavily intoxicated or otherwise impaired stay.

“We don’t want them to die out on our streets,” Miller said.

Miller and his mother Ann say they’ve received huge amounts of donated clothes that they can pass on to the people who come to God’s Love. However, they said they are looking for more blankets and towels, along with food like pasta and tomato sauce and other items like laundry soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, razors and combs.

Meanwhile, the United Way of the Lewis and Clark Area launched its new Greater Helena Area Housing First program earlier this month.

United Way chapters around the state are working on Housing First programs. They bring groups of nonprofits together, to work individually with homeless people in the community and connect them with the resources they need.

Alison Munson, president and CEO of the United Way of the Lewis and Clark Area, said the goal is to build trust with each person.

“When you’re homeless and on the streets, if you’re sleeping under a tarp, you probably don’t have a lot of trust of individuals,” she said. “In this process, they’re actually approached and talked to, and they are brought into our collective impact work, so that we can house them and make sure they have their mental health needs, they’re fed, they’re warm, they’re clothed.”

Once people’s basic needs have been met, Munson said groups will work to place them in appropriate housing programs.

Munson said it’s likely there will be a greater demand for these services as winter approaches.

“It’s getting to the time when people can’t camp out any more,” she said.

The United Way also hopes Housing First will lead to improved data about homelessness in the area, and about the gaps in resources that need to be addressed.

So far, leaders say they’ve found evidence homelessness leads to serious costs for the community. They say 10 people they worked with received more than $30,000 of emergency services in the last six months.

Some of the groups taking part in the Greater Helena Area Housing First program include Good Samaritan Ministries, PureView Health Center, the Volunteers of America, the Salvation Army, the Helena Housing Authority, Helena Food Share, the Montana Independent Living Project, the Friendship Center and the Helena Indian Alliance.

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