HELENA — A number of organizations around Lewis and Clark County have been working together on a plan to set up a potential alternate shelter for families that currently stay at the God’s Love shelter in Helena.
This week, leaders have been finalizing agreements to allow some of the families at the shelter to temporarily move to the YMCA’s Camp Child, a camp near Elliston – about 25 miles outside Helena.
Public health leaders have been looking for alternative housing options for people living in “communal” settings like shelters, to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
“That first goal is to ensure that we do have people that are sheltered right now – that is really important – and that they are sheltered in a way that protects their health and the public’s health from the transmission of the virus,” said county health officer Drenda Niemann, during a Lewis and Clark County Commission meeting Tuesday.
The Helena Family YMCA offered the use of Camp Child, which includes seven cabins that can be used for that purpose. A number of other organizations have been involved in putting the plan together, including Lewis and Clark County, Lewis and Clark Public Health, Elkhorn Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD) and Rocky Mountain Development Council.
During its meetings on Tuesday and Thursday, the county commission approved several contracts linked to the proposal.
Under the current plan, the county would pay the YMCA $10 per person, per day, for the use of Camp Child. County leaders said the COAD, specifically the Salvation Army, would take the lead in providing meals for the families and transportation to and from the camp.
PureView Health Center, St. Peter’s Health and the Center for Mental Health all agreed to provide physical or mental health services for the families, including through telehealth. Those services would be equivalent to what they could receive if they remained at God’s Love. According to the contracts, the county would not be responsible for paying for the services.
Leaders noted that moving to Camp Child would be a big change for families, and stressed that it was an option – not mandatory.
“I want to be sure that no one is ever compelled to go there,” said Commissioner Susan Good Geise on Thursday.
“We’re requesting, we’re encouraging, but at this point, there’s no need to really demand it of families,” Niemann said.
David Miller, director of the God’s Love shelter, thanked the groups that are providing the option, and said three families at the shelter are already interested in going.
“I fully support it, because our families have been quarantined in just one room apartments, and so the chance to get to go to a camp sounds wonderful,” he said.
This proposal has been part of a larger effort from local agencies to find various locations that could be used as alternative housing if needed during the COVID-19 emergency.