Yellowstone County Commissioners on Thursday told leaders from the Community Crisis Center and the Hub, both downtown social services, that any county funding they receive is not guaranteed.
The commissioners also talked about moving some county-funded mental health services from downtown to First Avenue South, placing them in what would be a refurbished Granny's Attic, the building at the corner of First Avenue South and South Broadway, owned by the Montana Rescue Mission.
"It's going to have to be a discussion we have over time," said Republican Don Jones, who was elected to the commission in 2018. "We need to step back and put the money on the table."
The money he's referring to is the $873,000 annually from the county's mental health mill levy, passed by voters in 2010. The language in the mill levy stipulates that those tax dollars are to be spent by the county on services that provide mental health services that would have a direct impact on assisting law enforcement.
It also says those services "may include" the Community Crisis Center and the Hub.
At the Hub, those who are homeless or are at risk of becoming homeless may access resources that help them find support, vocational and social skills training and supplies.
"Our job is to keep them out of jail, out of the hospitals," said Barbra Mettler, executive director of the Hub.
Mettler said she's open to moving the Hub, but would want to make sure wherever it goes would be a good fit for the services it provides and a safe building for it to be in. She's not convinced the building owned by the Montana Rescue Mission is that place.
The mission would have "to prove to me that building is safe," she said.
In 2016, the Granny's Attic building flooded when a water main broke, the water in some places climbing to 10 feet. The flooding was so bad, water spilled into the nearby men's mission, damaging the basement and displacing those who were sheltered there.
Matt Lundgren, executive director of the rescue mission, presented to the Hub's board the idea of moving in next to the rescue mission. The board so far has taken no action on it.
"The Hub isn't the building, it's the mission it's doing," said Commissioner Denis Pitman.
Pitman thinks it makes sense to have all the social services located in one section of town. It would make it easier for those served by the Hub, the Crisis Center and the mission to get immediate help and access to the services they need.
It would also make it easier to keep people away who had been banned from receiving services at any of the three organizations by helping the organization band together, presenting a united front.
Both Pitman and Jones acknowledged they don't know what the answer is but that it's important to have the conversation. Their goal for starting a discussion on how best to use the mill levy funding was to remind the Hub and the Crisis Center that their funding was not guaranteed and to "put them on notice."
The Community Crisis Center is located two blocks from St. Vincent Healthcare and three blocks from Billings Clinic. It was launched in the early 2000s as a joint venture between the two hospitals and other community partners in an effort to ease pressure on the emergency departments at the hospitals and to help keep chronically intoxicated and mentally ill patients out of the county jail.
It is open 24 hours a day year-round and is often the first stop for those who are having a mental health crisis or are too intoxicated to function. They can stay only for 24 hours, enough time to get them assessed by mental health and substance abuse professionals and to connect them with the services best suited to help them.
"The main thing is we're developing relationships with them," said MarCee Neary, the Crisis Center's program director.
She acknowledged the Crisis Center is out of space, but said moving a mile to First Avenue South would in some ways defeat the purpose of the Crisis Center. It exists to take pressure off the emergency rooms in the hospitals by creating a better space for those who need immediate support, Neary said.
If the Crisis Center were to move out of the hospital corridor, St. Vincent and Billings Clinic have their emergency rooms overwhelmed, she said.
"Our location is vital," she said.