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With construction on the $5.6 million Gateway Vista affordable apartments set to begin in two weeks, YWCA Billings gathered donors and friends Thursday to shovel some ceremonial dirt and offer thanks for contributing $4.3 million to date.

“Thanks for all your moral and financial support, as well as your expertise that got us this far,” said Merry Lee Olson, YWCA Billings CEO.

She said efforts to close the funding gap “are ongoing.”

The 24-unit apartment building and accompanying offices and classrooms, which will be built by Dick Anderson Construction with completion slated for late summer 2018, will offer the victims of domestic violence and their children safe, affordable housing and on-site services including employment counseling, job training, child care, legal advocacy and clinical and financial counseling.

A sliding scale will be used to determine appropriate rents for each family, with some rents being subsidized for a few months.

Mike and Sherril Burke of HGFA Architects, who donated their design work for Gateway Vista, said their interest in the project stems from the current time limit of 120 days at YWCA Billings’ current facility, Gateway Shelter.

Once Gateway Vista is opened, residents will be able to stay there up to two years.

“I had heard one too many times of people maxing out their stay (at Gateway Shelter),” said Sherril Burke, the former board chair of YWCA Billings. “It’s not enough time to get their ship righted.”

“For me,” she said following the brief ceremony, “this has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

While state and congressional officials were not present, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock was in town Saturday and told Olson the project was “incredibly important for the shelter and the life-giving support” it will provide to vulnerable populations. Gateway Vista “will allow families to take a breath, experience normalcy and look forward to a future where they can live and work safely.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said in a statement that the new apartments will help families "turn the page" and will provide them "the stability needed during their transition."

His Republican colleague in the Senate, Steve Daines, noted that “sadly, there is such a great need to address the violence and abuse that women face. I am grateful to hear about all of the services that will be available to Gateway Vista tenants."

Mayor Tom Hanel said the Billings City Council "recognizes that affordable housing issues are a top concern, and that housing for special needs populations be given priority attention."

During 2016, YWCA Billings provided 8,000 shelter nights, answered and provided counseling 1,600 times, accompanied 83 rape victims and provided legal services to 87 people.

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City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.