My Backyard opens at Billings First Congregational Church

Guests settle in to sleep in the parlor as part of My Backyard, a new partnership between the Community Crisis Center and three downtown churches, at Billings First Congregational Church on Jan. 30. My Backyard is not yet prepared to begin housing people at Billings churches this season.

Those seeking shelter from this week’s upcoming snow storm in Billings may have limited options for places to stay.

Up to a foot of snow could fall in Billings by Thursday, and temperatures that on Tuesday peaked in the 70s will plunge below freezing overnight and stay there for several days. 

MarCee Neary, program director for the Community Crisis Center in Billings, said that the My Backyard program will not be ready to house people until November. The program originated from a partnership between the crisis center and three downtown churches in Billings that volunteered to offer people a warm place to sleep during the winter months.

Right now Neary said volunteers are needed to help get the program up and running this year.

“We’re not quite ready yet,” Neary said. “We’re hoping by November we’ll be able to start activating that.”

The program involves First Baptist Church, First Christian Church and First Congregational Church, as well as STEP Inc. which supports families and children with disabilities.

While My Backyard is preparing for the winter months, the Community Crisis Center will continue to take people who need crisis stabilization services for mental health, substance abuse and social service needs.

However, the center has seen the building at capacity for a while now. Even during the warmer months, the center met capacity multiple times, Neary said.

The center, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, works in packed quarters at 704 N. 30th St. It has 18 stabilization beds, with a separate room next door where clients can sit at a table and rest their heads at night. It can accommodate 45 people.

Once capacity is met, some earlier arrivals may be escorted out of the building to make room for others.

The Montana Rescue Mission has offered shelter to those during inclement weather in the past, activating a Code Blue policy that allows the shelter to open its doors to all those seeking cover on cold nights. It gives those seeking shelter a warm place to sleep; in the morning they return outdoors.

Last year, the mission changed its Cold Blue policy to include those who have a blood-alcohol content under 0.08. In total, the mission sheltered 1,220 people., according to the MRM's website.

MRM director Matt Lundgren did not return a call to comment on the mission’s plans for the coming days.

The MRM men’s shelter is located at 2822 Minnesota Ave., and its women and children’s shelter is located at 2520 First Ave. N.

Capt. Neil Lawrence with the Billings Police Department said that while there are no plans to increase patrols, officers are willing to drive those in the cold to local shelters, depending on their condition.

Some may be taken to the hospital because of hypothermia or frostbite.

“A lot of our homeless population knows about the (Montana Rescue Mission). If they’re seeking it and they don’t, we certainly direct them there,” Lawrence said. “Sometimes they need medical treatment.”

Bethany Allen, family services director with the Salvation Army of Billings, said that because of the sudden cold weather, the office will help families with children find a motel room to stay in the area. Normally closed on Wednesdays, the office at 2100 Sixth Ave. N. will be open Wednesday through Friday this week from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Families are welcome to visit Allen during business hours to get help.

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