My Backyard opens at Billings First Congregational Church

Volunteers for My Backyard, a partnership between the Community Crisis Center and three downtown churches, talk together as a guest reads a book at the table in the library at Billings First Congregational Church on Jan. 30.

Last winter, the Community Crisis Center, three downtown churches and dozens of volunteers worked together to shelter vulnerable people who had no other safe place to spend subfreezing nights.

My Backyard was launched in response to the need to shelter adults who are intoxicated when the Community Crisis Center, 704 N. 30th St., is at its building occupancy limit.

The plan this fall was to start My Backyard up again in November. Then this week's snowstorm blew into our city. Crisis Center Program Director MarCee Neary started getting phone calls from some of the people who trained and volunteered last winter. They saw the immediate need, they wanted to help right away.

Faithful volunteers

So on Wednesday, the Crisis Center and First Congregational Church quickly organized an emergency activation of My Backyard. The church at Third Avenue North and North 27th Street got ready to host referrals from the Crisis Center this week, if needed.

The church isn't opening as a shelter to anyone who walks in off the street. My Backyard serves only individuals screened and referred by Crisis Center staff, who drive these folks to the church and introduce them to the volunteers.

My Backyard is activated only when the temperature is below freezing and the Crisis Center expects more than 45 people (including staff and security guards) will come through its door overnight. 

Those My Backyard volunteers and the participating church congregations deserve a round of applause for their work last winter. They merit a standing ovation for their quick response to ensure that vulnerable people in Billings had shelter on the wintry nights this week. These volunteers gave up their warm beds to help keep needy people safe overnight. This is what community means: Taking care of our neighbors — caring even for neighbors who are mentally ill, chemically dependent, homeless and living on city streets.

Recruiting underway

Neary is recruiting volunteers for this winter's program. Please see the box at right for details.

The Crisis Center, a nonprofit program of Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare, RiverStone Health and the Mental Health Center, is open 24/7, 365 days a year to assist adults in mental health or substance abuse crises. Services are provided regardless of the client's ability to pay. Funding is provided through county and state grants, private donations, the center's sponsoring organizations and Medicaid reimbursement.

The Crisis Center works to reduce unnecessary hospital emergency department use, prevent hospitalizations in Billings and Warm Springs and divert ill people from jail. It allows law enforcement officers to quickly return to patrol duty after they transport individuals for Crisis Center care.

In the fiscal year ended in June, the center logged 13,572 client visits — 1,830 more client visits than in fiscal 2018 and 3,023 more than in fiscal 2017. That growth in demand has prompted the Crisis Center board to consider how best to expand its capacity to meet the need in Yellowstone and the surrounding counties regularly using its services.

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