A Butte shelter that serves the homeless and hungry is asking income-earning clients to pay the nonprofit a percentage of their earnings.
Rocky Lyons, executive director of the Butte Rescue Mission, said the policy that went into effect Aug. 1 is meant to encourage those clients with an income — including Social Security and Supplemental Security Income — to move on. She said the recommended amount of 20 percent of a client’s income is more of a guideline than a rule and goes toward the mission’s expenses.
The nonprofit's 2013 federal tax form, the most recent available, shows an operating loss of $35,879 for the prior year — 2012 — and a bare-bones margin of $3,753 on the plus side in 2013.
The faith-based mission, at 1204 East Second St., serves Butte-Silver Bow County as well as six other counties in southwest Montana: Beaverhead, Deer Lodge, Granite, Jefferson, Madison and Powell. It was started in 1976 and has been in its current location since 1977.
From Jan. 1 through Sept. 30 the mission provided 8,970 bed nights or stays and 18,000 meals to both clients and to individuals coming in off the street in search of a meal. In 2014 bed stays numbered more than 6,900 and 19,755 meals were served.
“We can’t even touch a drop of the amount of the people who need help,” Lyons said, explaining that the 40-bed mission is strapped for space and staff. Despite tight resources, those in need are not turned away.
On Wednesday night, 34 people sought shelter — nearly full capacity and the “weather hasn’t even changed,” she said. On Thursday, soup and sandwiches were rustled up for a line of 52 hungry lunch-goers.
Sixty-year-old Jack Anderson has stayed at the mission for more than 40 days. He admitted seeking shelter during a previous stay. Wearing a purple Bulldog football sweatshirt, the gray-haired Anderson said he has been plagued by physical ailments: a stroke and a lumbar fracture that results in back spasms.
He remembered camping with his sister and niece on the side of Walmart and the two women saying they would return after three days. They never showed up, Anderson said, unable to recall the time frame their parting took place.
Anderson earns more than $700 from SSI and gladly subscribes to the mission’s policy of giving 20 percent of his income.
“It’s fair. I get all my meals, shower and sleep. It would cost me a whole lot more in a hotel,” he said.
Anderson said he is unable to walk far and his eyes are failing. He thanked Lyons, saying that she “helps me out a lot,” especially by allowing him to sleep in a cot in the dining room and avoid the walk to basement where the male clients or guests stay. Lyons said the mission is working with state Adult Protective Services to find him an assisted living apartment.
Anderson gives back by “wiping down the tables.”
“It’s a win-win,” Lyons said of the arrangement.
“It really is,” Anderson said, to which Lyons replied he could be staying at a park or the city’s bus station.
“Or be dead … Thank God it’s not the third one,” he chimed in.
Lyons said the policy, which has the support of the nonprofit’s board, came about over a concern that housing people without teaching them how to budget their money and how to maintain a job and be responsible leads to a “revolving door” scenario.
“We’re going to see them again in six to nine months because we haven’t taught them anything, and I consider that a failure,” she said.
At the Great Falls Rescue Mission construction is under way on a $8.5 million family shelter. Operations Director Jim McCormick said the mission turns away 20 to 26 families a month. The new facility will increase the Christian-based nonprofit’s capacity to shelter close to 300 men, women and children.
McCormick said from Jan. 1 to Sept. 30 the mission served up 57,713 meals and provided more than 27,000 bed nights to individuals, with a “majority from central Montana.”
Similar to the Butte Rescue Mission’s recently created policy, the Great Fall’s mission has a “participation program” that charges clients 20 percent of their income, which McCormick said is not a strict rule. A savings plan for each participant socks away 50 percent to go toward expenses for permanent housing and the remaining 50 percent to a scholarship program for clients seeking a GED or education or vocational classes.
The Montana Rescue Mission in Billings has seen about a 20-percent increase in women and children over 2014. As of Sept. 30, the facility has served nearly 64,000 meals and sheltered about 1,000 men and more than 670 women and children, spokesperson Denise Smith said. Her projection for total meals served by Dec. 31: more than 90,000.
Despite typical seasonal declines in previous years, Smith said the expected drop off in Yellowstone County did not occur this year, resulting in a “15 percent increase in the number of people we’re serving.” She said 93 percent of those seeking shelter, meals and resources come from outside Yellowstone County, including eastern Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota.
Men and women who ventured to the Bakken in search of black gold are now flocking to the mission since oil prices plummeted since late 2014. Hourly wages of $9 to $11.50 in Yellowstone County seem meager compared to the inflated earnings in the oil patch, where workers could easily rack up 80-plus hours per week at the height of the boom.
“They came through (Yellowstone County) on their way to make a fortune and now they’re back through looking for work,” Smith said, adding that a client’s average stay was 30 to 60 days.
“The transitory nature – staying under 21 days – makes it difficult to build relationships and give services to prevent homelessness, she said.
The aim is to help guests or clients to become self-sustaining, Seccomb said, citing savings accounts are set up to save for at least the first month of expenses after they leave the mission. A percentage of one’s income is not required, with the ever-present goal to recover and restore dignity and enable each client to be a contributing member of society.
Margie Seccomb, CEO of Butte-based Human Resources Council, District 12, said homelessness has been a “persistent” problem in the Mining City since the early 1990s and it appears to be on the rise. The nonprofit community action agency provides solutions to poverty and serves six southwest Montana counties: Butte-Silver Bow, Beaverhead, Deer Lodge, Granite, Madison and Powell.
“The official count in 1992 was 76 and the Homeward Bound transitional housing program that we operated for 20 years served between 85 and 105 people per year,” Seccomb said.
Data from the annual HUD-required Point-in-Time count of sheltered and unsheltered homeless persons on a single night in January 2014 showed the number of reported homeless individuals (173) increased by about 42 percent between 2001 and 2013, according to a Butte-Silver Bow County and HRC report. The data also revealed a large number of individuals and families were sleeping outside and that chronic homelessness was on the rise, with Butte ranking fourth in Montana.
The Homeward Bound transitional program in Butte closed in February, Seccomb said. Funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, program participants could stay up to two years. Income earners contributed 30 percent, with half placed into a housing savings account. The transitional housing program was supplanted by HUD’s Rapid Re-Housing Program, a new concept to Butte and one that “puts people directly into permanent housing,” she said.
According to Seccomb, there is a perception that more people are living on Butte’s streets. A coalition of service providers and citizens meet monthly to address the issue of homelessness. To “quantify the anecdotal stories,” HRC is partnering with Western Montana Mental Health Center, Community Health Center and the Public Housing Authority to survey the number of homeless in the city by the end of October.
“We are working on the concept of a seasonal warming shelter or some kind of emergency shelter response that can get people off the streets during the cold Montana months, Seccomb said. “It is our goal to find a solution that ensures people are warm and safe and one that benefits the entire community.”
Butte Rescue Mission’s Rocky Lyons said the nonprofit could not survive without its thrift store, adding that she is “still working on the community to get behind us.” The operation also benefits each client when they leave the shelter and are placed into housing.
“When someone is placed in housing we give them a voucher for a new apartment setup where they can go to our thrift store and get everything that they need for a new apartment,” she said.
Compelled by what she believes is a direct command from God, Lyons said the face of homelessness has changed drastically.
“We need to be able to hone our compassion and love, and help the poor and homeless,” she said.
David Libke, 54, receives disability benefits and contributes a part of his income to the mission. He said his “heart broke” when his wife asked him to leave after he came home from work one night and drank two 12-packs. He walks with a cane and wears silver and turquoise jewelry on his fingers and around his neck, including a cross.
Libke called himself a “warrior” in spite of at least one suicide attempt as a boy. He gave a double thumbs-up when asked about his experiences at the shelter and the 20-percent policy for income earners.
“A mission is to help you and to receive some to help pay for electricity and the bills. So it makes sense to me,” he said.