On five nights last month, the Community Crisis Center, 704 N. 30th St., had to turn people away from its door because the small building had reached its fire and life safety capacity of 45 occupants. That limit includes center staff.
The 24-hour help center has only 18 patient beds. On most nights, staff must triage the homeless, mentally ill and intoxicated adults who stream in. The neediest get a bed, then others wait in a conference room or in the cramped lobby. Before the night is over, some patients will be asked to leave to make room for those in worse shape. In October, it logged about 1,100 client visits.
The Community Crisis Center opened in summer 2006 to better serve adults in mental health or substance abuse crisis. Most patients have both problems. They come from Billings and neighboring counties, two-thirds are men, most are homeless. They receive needed services regardless of ability to pay; most can’t pay.
The Crisis Center evaluates their condition, gives them a warm meal and place to sleep, washes their clothes, offers ongoing help to recover from their illnesses and helps them set goals for recovery. Not everyone wants to get into recovery.
“At the Crisis Center, we engage, develop relationships and offer services,” said manager MarCee Neary. “It may take a long time.”
Last January was the first time the crisis center reached its building capacity. It hit capacity 10 nights in April and 15 in May, coinciding with temperatures rising above the freezing mark, which triggered discontinuation of the Montana Rescue Mission’s Code Blue nights. MRM has a policy of no drugs or alcohol, but made an exception for some intoxicated people on sub-freezing nights.
This fall, MRM changed its policy so that it only shelters sober individuals, even on the coldest nights. Perry Roberts, executive director, cited safety concerns and points out that many of the mission’s residents are working on addiction recovery, a process that may be hindered by inebriated overnight guests. The mission’s change in policy includes transporting inebriates to the Crisis Center, which is increasingly likely to be unable to accommodate more people.
To be clear, the problem of intoxicated individuals on the streets of Billings is a community problem. It isn’t the MRM’s problem; it isn’t the Crisis Center’s problem. It demands a community response.
Neary has good ideas for a partial solution. The Crisis Center has been discussing a partnership with a Billings church that may be willing to open its doors overnight to individuals first screened and referred by the crisis center staff. Such an arrangement would allow people to be warm and safe when the crisis center is at capacity.
How can Gazette readers help the Community Crisis Center? The center needs volunteers and donations. Please check the box above for details.
The Community Crisis Center was created to better serve needy people by diverting them from jail and hospital emergency departments. Law enforcement officers regularly bring distraught individuals to the center. All clients are there voluntarily, so they can leave when they want.
The Community Crisis Center has a plan for expanding its 18-bed capacity, but first must find the money. The nonprofit is owned by Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare, RiverStone Health and the Mental Health Center. All four entities have contributed cash, services or staff over the years. A voter-approved Yellowstone County tax levy pays more than half of the $1.5 million annual budget that keeps the center open 24/7. A state grant is another partial funding source.
The Crisis Center:
- Helps set people on a road to recovery.
- Keeps people out of our overcrowded jail.
- Offers more appropriate care for adults in crisis who don’t need the much more expensive care of a hospital emergency department.
- Intervenes to keep people from deteriorating and getting committed to Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs.
Twelve years ago, Billings health care organizations and private community donors stepped up to renovate a small building in the Medical Corridor and start staffing the Community Crisis Center. Our community has grown, and so have the needs of homeless, mentally ill and addicted folks. It’s time to pitch in again.