The Butte Rescue Mission hopes its planned homeless shelter is in place and operating by September, but there are hurdles to clear and it seems certain the city will be without a shelter for at least three months.
Butte-Silver Bow Commissioner Bill Andersen is concerned it might be longer, leading to the same kind of emergency scramble that occurred last fall when temperatures plummeted without a shelter in place.
A temporary shelter was opened Uptown, but it will close at the end of May, its operators say. A Mission official is confident their new shelter will be opened by September, but Andersen isn’t sure they can get everything done by then.
“I’m worried about these people being stranded in the winter time again,” Andersen said Monday.
Indeed, there is a lot mission officials must get done.
They must get a revised railroad-company deed before they can purchase land on East Platinum Street, then move prefabricated housing units there from North Dakota and fulfill numerous zoning, landscaping and permit requirements.
They must also get infrastructure in place, including sewer, gas and water connections, and do any dirt work and drainage necessary to meet environmental and storm-water standards. They're still working on finances, too.
Mission Executive Director Rocky Lyons expects the revised deed within two weeks so they can close on purchasing the site. She said she’s confident all else can get done so the shelter opens by late summer or early fall. They’re shooting for Sept. 1.
“Once we get the deed in our hands it will be full-blast ahead,” Lyons said Monday.
Andersen, a commissioner for eight years, isn’t as optimistic.
“I know the timeline it takes to get a lot of these things done and it takes a long time,” he said.
If the mission can’t open its shelter in five or six months and there’s no contingency plan in place, he said, then Butte will have another emergency on its hands when cold weather returns.
At this time last year, he noted, everyone knew the mission’s longtime shelter on East Second Street would shut down soon because of fire code violations. It closed early last April.
“Everyone just kind of figured it (another shelter) would happen, like a fairy godmother would come down and wave a wand,” Andersen said. “But the fairy godmother never came down and waved her wand. Life isn’t a Disney movie.”
From the time they learned of the fire-code violations in January 2017, mission officials rushed to find another location for their shelter.
They first wanted to purchase the vacant Homeward Bound building at Quartz and Main streets Uptown, but a deal with its owners — the nonprofit social services agency Action Inc. — did not materialize.
The Zoning Board rejected a second location at a long-vacant elementary school because of neighborhood opposition and a third location on South Harrison Avenue didn’t pan out either.
The Zoning Board OK'd the current site at Platinum and Arizona streets near Butte's warehouse district, contingent on the mission meeting a long list of requirements that are still pending.
Mission officials warned repeatedly that Butte needed a shelter before winter weather arrived, but it went largely unheeded. Numerous other organizations were focused on new approaches to ending homelessness altogether.
When snow and cold hit in October, Action Inc. was inundated with requests for hotel vouchers for the homeless, something it said it could not sustain financially. More than that, Action Inc. and others said, lives were at stake.
Action Inc. and other organizations and charities that work on homeless issues opened a temporary shelter in the Homeward Bound building in November. They said then it would only operate through this May.
At a recent council meeting, Margie Seccomb, Action Inc.’s chief executive officer, told commissioners that funding for the shelter would last only through May. She also noted the mission’s plans for a new shelter.
“As we go into the summer months, there will be a gap in shelter, but that again is a warmer time of the year and we don’t feel that people will necessarily be as unsafe as they have been during the winter months,” she said.
A message was left for Seccomb at her office Monday seeking additional comment.
Andersen said it can get quite cold at night during the summer, although nobody would freeze to death. But that can start changing quickly in September.
In January, mission officials were shooting for an opening date of May or June. That won't happen. Now, Andersen said, contingency plans are needed in case they can't hit September.
“We didn’t really have one last year and we scrambled for a while,” he said. “It was hard to get everything put together.”