HELENA — Helena has seen a large jump in homelessness in recent years, with advocates noting it has become a top public health concern in the area.
In a City-County work session meeting Tuesday night, local leaders and two non-profits discussed the need for--and options to provide emergency housing for area homeless.
In the last 5 years, Lewis and Clark County has seen a 120% increase in homelessness, and the need for housing is urgent.
“It costs a lot to do nothing about this issue medical costs for unhoused persons are in the neighborhood of 4.7 million dollars,” said Jeff Buscher United Way Director of Community Impact.
Buscher stated that the need for rent-subsidized housing is three times higher than the available vouchers and that the largest gap in housing inventory is emergency housing.
“We have literally in the thousands of people who are using rent subsided housing, there are over 400 vouchers being used,” said Buscher.
The United Way of the Lewis and Clark Area asked for the commissioners and mayor to determine the next steps in finding housing for those experiencing homelessness.
Both Good Samaritan and the United Way discussed the possibility of repurposing hotels, warehouses, or even campgrounds to create an outdoor shelter like in Missoula.
"We all know all know it would be best to find a hotel to move forward on this and quite honestly we were surprised when we did call the Knights extended stay and they are interested in working with us on a possible site for the homeless facility for people in this community,” said Theresa Ortega, Executive Director of Good Samaritan.
The Knight's Extended Stay in Helena, was offered for a sale of 800,000 dollars which does not include the amount of money it will take to renovate the building.
“There are 13 rooms there is the penthouse on top which is a large studio place as well it's always full we won't need to worry about that but it would suit our needs quite well with 13 rooms,” said Ortega.
For now, the United Way and Good Samaritan are on standby for the next possible steps in the process of creating more housing for those experiencing homelessness.