The Montana Rescue Mission has the building. Harvest Church has the band of willing volunteers.
Beginning Wednesday evening, the homeless and others who need a hot cup of coffee, a respite from harsh weather or a listening ear have a new place to go — the community center, a brightly painted space that opened Wednesday evening in the former Granny’s Attic, 2804 Minnesota Ave., adjacent to the Montana Rescue Mission.
The new center, decked out with donated tables and chairs and complete with a coffee pot purchased Wednesday by Montana Rescue Mission program director Rev. Glenn Fournier, will be open at least every Wednesday evening and for a few hours each Sunday. More days and hours will be added as volunteers to staff the center come forward.
The partnership began about a dozen years ago, in the days when Fournier used to work with Suzanne Moran, outreach director at Harvest Church, on the church’s Evangelism Mobilization Team, also known as its EMT ministry. The street ministry featured a retrofitted commercial truck — the prototype was a converted ambulance — that would make stops and minister to Billings’ homeless population with food, beverages and kind words.
But, as Moran explained Wednesday afternoon while a group of eight church volunteers surrounded her for a planning meeting, police began to ask if street ministry could be done a different way, because of trash being left behind, people loitering and other concerns.
Moran immediately thought of her old friend Fournier. “Who knew?” she said as she and the volunteers voiced their final ideas for Wednesday evening’s opening. “Glenn suggested we go from mobile to static, and so we are stepping into the lurch.”
Harvest Church volunteers said they’re not concerned about their clients’ sobriety levels as they minister to the street population.
“They’re guys we know who are just not willing to make the next step into sobriety and well-being,” Moran said.
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“The goal is not to bring people to Harvest Church, but to show the love of Christ and to be good neighbors,” said Doug Graves, a church volunteer.
“We can’t continue to put a bandage on the situation,” said Kathern Pickering, another church volunteer. “We can affect people and get them started on a prosperous life.”
The Granny’s Attic space opened up when Montana Rescue Mission shut down the thrift store next door several months ago. Fournier said the mission has “tried to be a solutions provider” ever since the city’s Community Innovations Summit in October. About 70 percent of Billings’ homeless receive shelter or other care at the mission. About 1,700 are sheltered annually.
Fournier said he sees success for the fledgling community center.
“Harvest Church has more than 10 years of street cred,” he said. “They can liaison the mission and the street. When you’ve established credibility, people will listen to you.”
Moran said she’s also confident the new ministry will prove successful.
“This is a calling that everybody can help with,” she said, an invitation for churches to pitch in to provide additional staffing to open the community center more nights. “We just know that the rest will be provided for.”
Those who would like to help staff the new community center can contact Moran at 406-259-5648 or firstname.lastname@example.org.