HELENA — Four families who had been living at God’s Love Shelter in Helena have now moved to a temporary shelter near Elliston.
Organizations from around Lewis and Clark County finalized a plan last week to set up alternative housing at the Helena Family YMCA’s Camp Child, about 25 miles outside Helena.
Rachel Saunders, God’s Love’s office manager, said five adults and eight children were taken up to the camp on Friday. She was at the camp Monday assisting them.
“The families have been loving it up here,” Saunders said. “The kids are just running and playing in the fields. It’s been working out really well.”
Public health leaders have been looking for other housing options for people living in “communal” settings like shelters, to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. County health officer Drenda Niemann said moving these families has made it easier for those remaining at the shelter to keep a safe distance from each other.
Leaders say this is an example of what can be accomplished when organizations work together. They say Lewis and Clark County, the cities of Helena and East Helena and the Rocky Mountain Development Council have all committed funding to the program. Elkhorn Community Organizations Active in Disaster (COAD), which brings together a variety of service organizations, is handling many support functions. PureView Health Center, St. Peter’s Health and the Center for Mental Health are offering physical or mental health services for the families, including through telehealth.
David Oclander, executive director of the Helena Family YMCA, said they wanted to help wherever they could with the response to COVID-19, and they saw offering shelter as one of the best ways.
“That’s what we’re all about; we’re about connecting people and serving families and youth development,” he said. “Camp Child, I can’t think of a cooler place in the immediate area where families can go and really enjoy themselves and thrive while at the same time meeting the public health officer’s main goals of protecting people who are living in situations that would naturally put them at risk.”
Leaders with the Elkhorn COAD said this was the first time their group has dealt with this type of challenge, rather than the traditional disasters like flooding and fires. They said they added new organizations, like the YMCA, as a way to add experience in things like shelter and health care.
“We had a network started, but this has really taken it to the next level and we want to continue to build off this model,” said Joe Wojton, the COAD’s chair.
The Salvation Army has been providing food for the families at Camp Child. Leaders said Vans Thriftway and Helena Food Share have also been assisting.
Niemann said Lewis and Clark Public Health has also been working on setting up potential shelters for people who need to be isolated if they test positive for COVID-19. Those include places like the Journey Home, the Jan Shaw Home and the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds. Niemann said no one has had to use those shelters yet.
“Priority No. 1 was getting Camp Child up and running, and now we’re working hard to get those other shelters ready to go if and when they’re needed,” she said.