During the recent cold snap, local agencies that work with the homeless saw a boost in numbers.
The peak night for the Montana Rescue Mission was Dec. 30, a Saturday, when the Men’s Shelter saw an increase of 32 people and the Women and Family Shelter, 10.
“That’s a lot for the Women’s Shelter to have that many,” said Denise Smith, director of public relations for the faith-based nonprofit.
In the winter months, the Men’s Shelter averages more than 100 people per night. Year round, the number averages 72 per night, with the bulk of those men tending to remain longer at the shelter as they work toward self-sufficiency, gaining skills to find a job and seeking permanent housing.
When the weather grows frigid and snowy, as it did during the last days of 2017, additional downtown homeless head indoors. At the Men’s Shelter, the ones who seek shelter are housed in the entry area and chapel, separate from the second-floor dormitory.
Those who fall into the “code blue” category sleep on cots, on mats on the floor and even in chairs. The latest cold snap packed the temporary sleeping quarters.
“It’s the first time since I’ve been here that we actually ran out of mats to put down,” said Smith, who has been on staff for three years. “We had chairs and some folks lying on blankets on the floor.”
The number of transient residents decreased from 32 to 18 on Sunday night, despite the continuing cold. It went up by two at the Women and Family Shelter, to 12, where winter draws an average of more than 60 residents per night.
Everyone who comes into the Montana Rescue Mission is evaluated, Smith said, and some who are intoxicated or high are sent by taxi or transported by a staff member to the Community Crisis Center, where medical staff is on site.
“If we’re concerned about what they’re on or their level of intoxication, they’re taken to the crisis center,” Smith said.
With the cold, the Community Crisis Center, whose 18 beds are always filled, has been running at complete building capacity, which totals 45 people.
“People in most dire need get a bed, and we also take care of those who don’t,” said Program Director MarCee Neary. “The other folks we get will participate in morning goals groups and get some of the services we have.”
The center had to contend with some building problems on the below-zero New Year’s Day, when a drain issue caused minor flooding indoors.
“It didn’t take us out of operation, but for about a period of six hours, nobody could use our plumbing,” Neary said. “That caused some undue stress, but we were able to get everything back in order before that night.”