HELENA — As temperatures in the Helena area plunge to life-threatening levels, the homeless and unsheltered are particularly at risk. However, the conditions will also affect those who don’t have reliable heat, people who may lose power and people who may not have reliable transportation.
In light of the dramatic weather, local government, service providers and other organizations from around the community have been in contact to make sure that they can connect people with the services they need.
“We have some pretty hardy folks who are able to survive outdoors, but when it gets below -15, -20, that’s pretty serious, and we don’t want folks outside if we can prevent that,” said Jeff Buscher, community impact coordinator for the United Way of the Lewis and Clark Area.
Buscher said the United Way has been coordinating regularly with its partners – and they’re stepping up to provide help. He said God’s Love shelter has so far been able to find space for those looking for a place to stay, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church opened its doors during the day and was ready to stay open overnight if needed, and the American Red Cross had offered resources and was prepared to step in if there are serious power outages or other emergency situations.
Buscher says the Helena community comes through in times like this.
“We have seen folks donating blankets, coats – anything they can – because we know as a community, folks are concerned, and they want to do something,” he said.
Helena City Commissioner Andy Shirtliff said right now, the city is mainly serving in a support role. He said Helena police are directing people they meet on the streets to service providers, while the Helena Fire Department is ready to ensure any temporary shelter space meets code requirements.
“Partnerships are how we get through stuff like this – whether it’s the city, the county, the state, nonprofits, faith community, the citizens of Helena all working together to make it through this week,” he said.
Shirtliff said he wants community leaders to work on a long-term plan that can be put in place ahead of extreme weather events like this, and he believes most stakeholders are in agreement about the need for that.
Buscher said he’s also concerned about the long-term path forward. He said organizations have been having discussions about the need for an additional shelter in Helena.
“What we need to do is get through this situation, and then continue the conversation of what we can do on a more permanent and more planned basis, so we have a facility for folks in these situations,” he said.
Buscher said those conversations will be continuing into the New Year, and that leaders are also going to talk about the ongoing need for affordable housing in the community. He encouraged anyone interested in participating in those discussions to contact him at the United Way. The phone number is (406) 442-4360.