The homeless, transient and mentally ill people who walk Billings streets can be very hard to help — especially those who frequently get high or drunk. Yet no one wants these folks to freeze before they can be steered to sobriety and better health.
That is why the Community Crisis Center, 704 N. 30th St., is seeking partners for a new project called My Backyard. The center will soon have at least one new partner in caring for adults who have nowhere else to go on cold nights.
The My Backyard founding partners are the Crisis Center and Billings First Congregational Church. This downtown congregation already ministers to homeless and transient people in various programs. My Backyard is “continuing our outreach to support a marginalized population,” said Lisa Harmon, minister of healing and community transformation. “As faith leaders, we are compelled to help.”
Harmon expects the project will be an opportunity for learning and growing over the coming year.
Other downtown churches have indicated interests in becoming My Backyard partners and are in various stages of discussing it with their leadership and congregation.
MarCee Neary, Crisis Center manager, hopes for at least four partners, so they can rotate serving one week a month.
My Backyard will adopt a model used in Eugene, Oregon. It will only be used in Billings on nights where the temperature is expected to be 32 degrees or lower and the Crisis Center exceeds its building’s fire safety capacity, Neary said.
When those cold and capacity conditions are met, the Crisis Center staff will refer clients who need low-level services (basically a warm, safe place to sleep) to First Congregational Church or another partner. The church partner will only open its door to individuals who have been screened and referred by Crisis Center staff.
All volunteers working with My Backyard will first have to be trained by the Crisis Center to safely and effectively interact with the intoxicated people who may be referred to them for overnight shelter.
Heartened by the community response so far, Neary envisions a need for sheltering between five and 15 people on nights when My Backyard is activated. The center hit capacity five nights in October, and none in November.
Neary wants to hear from churches and other organizations interested in becoming partners in My Backyard, and from individuals who want to train and volunteer for the project. For information, call Neary at 259-8800.
Operating 365 nights a year, the Community Crisis Center provides mental health and nursing assessments, referrals to mental health and addiction treatment, and 18 beds for care lasting less than 24 hours. Needed services are provided regardless of a patient’s ability to pay; most can’t pay.
Cash donations can be made by going online to crisiscenterbillings.org and using PayPal or by mailing a check to: Community Crisis Center, 704 N. 30th St., Billings, MT 59101. Indicate in the memo line that the donation is for My Backyard.
The problems of homelessness, mental illness and substance abuse are community problems. We commend the Community Crisis Center, First Congregational Church, their staffs, members and supporters for stepping up to meet this challenge.