If ever the moniker “can-do city” were to be applied to Butte, the process in which the city has cared for and managed its homeless population would be the example, with leadership, followership, collaboration, sacrifice and savvy as the can-do elements.
Last week’s monthly meeting of the Continuum of Care Coalition, a multi-agency group focused on homelessness, reported out on activity that continues to manage and assist the homeless, including establishment of a temporary emergency shelter on North Main Street, which has lived up to its mission — preventing people without shelter from freezing to death outside this winter.
The temporary shelter is able to operate at least through the end of May with the help of a $200,000 Community Development Block Grant from the Montana Department of Commerce. Shortly after the temporary shelter opened, Margie Seccomb, chief executive officer of Action, Inc., the agency that opened the shelter, went to work with Commerce’s director, Pam Haxby-Cote, to pursue the funding, which ultimately was issued by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Action, Inc., and Butte-Silver Bow were able to develop $277,340 in matching dollars. In a news release, Haxby-Cote said successful pursuit of HUD dollars usually takes much planning, but “extreme weather created an urgent situation in Butte. Fortunately, everyone involved has been able to move quickly for the health and safety of Butte’s homeless population.”
Seccomb also announced at last week’s meeting that Action, Inc., and St. James Healthcare were successful in obtaining a $60,000 grant from the Montana Healthcare Foundation to close what is acknowledged as a local gap in serving the homeless — where do homeless people go when they are discharged from the emergency room, the state hospital, or behavioral health services? The philosophy behind the grant acknowledges the value of having a roof over one’s head — “housing is healthcare.”
Day-to-day operational updates were also issued at last week’s meeting. Action, Inc.’s Cassie O’Leary reported that the shelter features 34 beds with 66 unique family units or individuals served in December, and 40 unique units or individuals exiting the system into some type of shelter. O’Leary said the shelter serves an average of 30 people per night. Dinner for residents is served nightly at 4:30 p.m., and dinner for non-residents — community members who are hungry — is served at 5, with the feeding process complete by 5:30 (in an extraordinary community contribution, St. James Healthcare has been donating food for this effort). Community donations to the shelter, O’Leary said, have been overwhelming
The Continuum of Care Coalition’s diversion/coordinated entry system is operational, working to make homelessness in Butte rare, brief and non-recurring. Families and individuals appearing at the shelter are queried about whether they have any shelter alternatives, and many of them do (this is the diversion piece of the system). Those with no alternatives are brought into the shelter with people with disabilities, the elderly and families with children receiving priority. As O’Leary was delivering her report, she relayed that five unique family units or individuals had been housed during the previous week, that three more were being housed that day, and that two would be housed this week (this part of the system is the piece referred to as “coordinated entry” into shelter). Average length of stay at the shelter is 14 nights. A multi-agency team continues to meet weekly to coordinate entry into shelter for family units or individuals awaiting housing.
In addition to nightly meals at the shelter, the multi-agency We Deliver program continues to deliver sack lunches at various locations in town, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Lunches are served Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Knights of Columbus.
A welcome presence at last week’s meeting was that of Rocky Lyons, executive director of the Butte Rescue Mission, who provided an update on the mission’s plans for its newly acquired property on East Platinum Street. Lyons, accompanied by one of her board members, Paul Buckley, said the mission hopes to be operational by May or June, providing shelter for 56 individuals — 28 men and 28 women and children. Lyons said the mission continues to work with Burlington Northern Railroad and the Butte Central Catholic School System on easement and liability issues, and must achieve contingencies at the site established by Butte-Silver Bow, such as storm water drainage, landscaping and lighting. Lyons said it is the mission’s intention, once it is open, to serve three meals daily to mission residents and hungry community members.
At last week’s meeting, other agencies reported in — the Volunteers of America in how it’s working with homeless veterans, and Western Montana Mental Health Center, on its new plan for clients in the midst of funding cuts, which has decimated its case management services.
Continuum of Care Coalition members also discussed the upcoming Service Connect event, to be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Jan. 26, at the Maroon Activities Center. Homeless people are invited to attend to receive a variety of services, including showers, haircuts, dental care and vaccines. Coordinating with other efforts nationally, a formal count of local homeless families and individuals will occur.
Managing homelessness is an incredibly challenging endeavor. In this very difficult and important work in Butte, leaders, followers, collaborators and partners abound. Butte should hold its head very high, as we are serving the least among us in a respectful and honoring way.
In a can-do way.