Those who need it can still get a bed for the night at the Montana Rescue Mission in downtown Billings, and they may even get a little more space thanks to social distancing.
Like every other organization in Billings trying to adapt to COVID-19, the MRM had to scramble to figure out how to best do its job while making sure it could protect staff and the people it served.
"We serve an at-risk population," said Matt Lundgren, the mission's director.
To best meet their needs during a pandemic, the mission has had to get creative about how it serves that population. And so far those protocols appear to be working.
The mission has set up quarantine and isolation rooms, it performs temperature checks for those seeking to stay, the meal rooms have been expanded to allow for social distancing and beds in the men's quarters have been spaced apart and arranged head-to-toe.
"We're just trying to be as smart as we can be," Lundgren said. "We have not had a single case yet."
The shelter was busy during those first few weeks of the pandemic in the spring and then as the lockdown went into effect, staff saw those numbers drop. By summer the number of those seeking help from the MRM started to rise again, Lundgren said.
As a result the MRM is now serving those who may not have been accepted for help in the past.
The MRM has robust programs to address addiction and mental health. It's also a faith-based, private organization. In the past, if someone showed up there under the influence, they were required to sober up before they could seek shelter or help.
As COVID-19 has put more pressure on various parts of the community, the MRM has widened its net and taken in more of those who are intoxicated. Lundgren said he believes the MRM is serving a wider variety of people than before.
And the Mission is likely to see the demand for shelter from that most vulnerable population increase in the next few days as temperatures are forecast to dip into the teens.
Lundgren is pragmatic about what the MRM does. It offers counseling services and work programs designed to give people the skills they need to find jobs, housing and independence.
"That's the only way to end homelessness," he said.
In the last couple years, the MRM has converted some of its housing into a half-dozen low-income apartments where those seeking shelter and services can transition as they strike out on their own in the community to find a job.
Secure, available permanent housing is one of those things Lundgren believes is absolutely necessary to getting people off the street and integrated again into a community.
The next step for the MRM is expanding its housing program. Earlier in the year, the organization applied for federal low-income housing tax credits through the Montana Board of Housing. The credits are worth $32 million and 14 organizations across the state have applied to get access to it.
The Montana Board of Housing said at least five of the organizations will get its approval, which will likely be announced at the end of the month.
The MRM applied for $6.4 million of those tax credits to fund what's been dubbed the MRM Unified Campus. The project will include new construction at its location on Minnesota Avenue of a three-story building with 200 beds for the homeless and 29 affordable housing apartments on the top floor.
The project also includes the remodeling of one of the older buildings on campus to create classroom space for job and life-skills training, an exercise facility, a new 200-person chapel, counseling and health care offices, and a child care area with an outdoor playground.
To complete the project, the MRM will be seeking matching funds from community donors to augment the $6.4 million in federal low-income housing tax credits for which its applied.
"We hope to be here until we end homelessness," Lundgren said.
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