County officials say the Butte Rescue Mission can have a separate unit at its planned homeless shelter where people who are drunk or high on drugs can sleep overnight.
The Butte-Silver Bow Zoning Board approved the "emergency, low-barrier" unit on a 6-0 vote Tuesday night, subject to certain conditions, including necessary permits and limiting the number of people at the entire shelter to 56.
Officials with the Christian-based mission only allowed drunk or high individuals to stay overnight at their previous shelter on East Second Street if it was bitterly cold outside.
But they were under pressure from some in Butte, including Catholic Father Patrick Beretta and others who advocate for the homeless, to add a low-barrier unit to the planned shelter near Butte's warehouse district. Mission officials say they, too, now recognize a need for it.
"We realize it is a huge need in our community," said Mike McLeod, a member of the mission's board. "Quite honestly, there is nobody else out there who is going to serve them."
Tom Kenneally, president of Butte-based Town Pump Inc., said the low-barrier shelter was the "right thing to do." Town Pump, through its charitable foundation, has long supported the mission.
"It's the Butte way to help out our fellow men and women in their greatest time of need," Kenneally said.
The mission was forced to close its previous longtime shelter in April 2017 because of fire code violations and safety concerns, and it took months to find another suitable location.
The nonprofit organization got a zoning permit last November to establish a shelter on 1.6 acres at Arizona and East Platinum streets. Portable housing units will make up most of the campus, although plans are to eventually offer programs at a vacant warehouse on the site.
Work at the site is underway, but no part of the shelter is open yet. Mission officials had hoped to start operations this month but now say it could be mid-December.
The delay is sure to spark new discussions and debate about how to serve the homeless as cold weather sets in again. Action Inc. opened a temporary shelter in Uptown Butte in late fall last year, but it stopped operating in late May.
When the mission does open its shelter, it will now include one unit that will serve up to 16 people each night even if they are drunk, high, or have criminal records as violent or sexual offenders, as long as they pose no immediate threat to themselves or others.
The mission wouldn't allow them to stay overnight at the previous shelter unless cold weather threatened their safety. That's because such people made it difficult for others, including those trying to recover from alcoholism or other addictions, mission officials said.
Rocky Lyons, the mission's executive director, said previously that a private donor gave the mission $135,000 to buy the extra unit and do additional work to establish it as a low-barrier shelter on the site. The donor wants to remain anonymous, Lyons said.
The mission had previously purchased 11 portable units from North Dakota, where such units were common housing during the oil boom in the Bakken Formation area.
The people and organizations who urged the mission to add a low-barrier unit to the campus included a consortium of agencies and organizations called the Continuum of Care Coalition, the nonprofit social services agency Action Inc., and Father Beretta.