BILLINGS- It doesn’t have to officially be winter for our weather to become dangerously frigid. But some who have no other place to stay may now find themselves out in the cold after the Montana Rescue Mission changed its policy to bar anyone who has been drinking from entering, even on the coldest nights.
The executive director of the Montana Rescue Mission, Perry Roberts, told Q2 Monday that he hates to see anyone cold, but the decision is a matter of safety for staff and others who stay at the shelter and do follow the rules.
”We have problems whenever we do it, and that is part of the reason why they don’t stay at the shelter. They don’t like our rules. They don’t want to behave. They don’t want to do what people tell them to do or ask them to do, so I think overall it is a tough decision,” said Roberts.
Roberts says he has noticed a large increase in the number of homeless on the streets of Billings in recent years, and many have substance abuse problems.
“This may sound a little bit hard, but for years everyone has looked to Montana Rescue Mission as the solution to this. But frankly we don’t have the capital resources or the financial resources or the staffing to really deal with these folks,” said Roberts.
Instead of allowing those who have been drinking to come out of the cold on nights when the weather is dangerously cold, they will instead be given the option to come to the Community Crisis Center.
The Crisis Center’s Program Director, MarCee Neary, told Q2 the change will potentially create a strain on her staff.
“We do have a formal triage process in place, and that is to make sure that we are serving those that are in the most need due to mental health and substance abuse. But we still have the law enforcement, who bring us people in crisis. We have hospitals that send us people in crisis, and we have private individuals who bring us people. So what’s going to have to happen is those in the most need will be able to be served,” said Neary.
And that could lead to some people, who truly need help, being put back on the streets. The Community Crisis center has already reached its 45-person capacity five times in October alone.
“The weather doesn’t always predict the capacity issue, but I do fear since we have already hit that capacity issue in October that it is a strong indicator that it will continue all winter,” says Neary.
Neary did tell Q2 that she has been working with a local church, trying to find a warm place to meet this need. With winter fast approaching, she is hoping that solution can be found soon and that no one will be left out in the cold this winter.
Reporting by Russ Riesinger for MTN News