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Work at Butte Rescue Mission homeless shelter

Arnold Bowser, left, saws paneling at the planned new homeless shelter in Butte as Paul Buckley, president of the Mission Board of Directors, looks on Friday. This room will be the dining room where meals will be provided to the homeless and those who are struggling to make ends meet and need a meal.

Much of the Butte Rescue Mission’s planned homeless shelter is in place with extensive interior work underway, and if things go as planned, the campus near Arizona and Platinum streets could be opened by Memorial Day.

Mission officials have missed some previous hoped-for opening dates, but they are sure about one thing:

“There will not be another winter in Butte, Montana, without a shelter,” said Mission Executive Director Rocky Lyons.

The mission still needs donations to get the project completed and operational, and an annual fundraiser is April 11 at the Civic Center.

But after a long, twisting road since the Mission had to close its previous shelter on East Second Street two years ago because of fire concerns, things are moving quickly, workers are busy, and everything is falling into place. The former shelter operated for 40 years.

“The community has come around us in an incredible way, and we are so appreciative of that,” said Paul Buckley, president of the Mission Board of Directors. “We just have to make this last push to get ourselves set up for the next 40 years.”

The Mission bought land and an old, vacant warehouse near the city’s warehouse district last year and had previously purchased portable housing pods in North Dakota.

There are two units in place at the Butte site now – one with five pods for men and one with six pods for women, children, and intact families. The unit for the men will have a commercial kitchen and dining room where everyone on the campus will eat.

Last year, in response to community demand, the Mission agreed to establish a third unit that will serve as a low-barrier, emergency shelter where those who are drunk or high can stay overnight. Pods for that are in eastern Montana now but will be moved to Butte.

Lyons said a building permit for the low-barrier unit came through two weeks ago, but the site still needs a clearance from state and federal environmental regulators.

There is lots of work being done in the interiors of the other two units, including painting, new flooring, and plastering, and an extensive fire-suppression system is taking a while to install. Water should be available in those units soon, Lyons said.

As much work as possible is being done by volunteers to hold down costs, Buckley said.

There will be a large covered deck to the side of one of the current units, and they will be connected with a long, covered walkway. They can’t be installed until the ground thaws enough to put posts in.

Mission officials had hoped to be open by October and then December last year, but that didn’t happen for a variety of reasons. Getting necessary permits took longer than expected, and ground work on the site was more extensive and difficult than initially thought, among other things.

Lyons said the Mission might be criticized now because it now hopes to open Memorial Day weekend – the unofficial start of summer and the warm season.

But, she and Buckley say, the heat isn’t kind to the homeless, either. And everything should be operational in the units in time for the return of cold weather months from now.

Most in Butte have stuck with the Mission over the past two years as it looked for new shelter locations and dealt with setbacks, and they are grateful. But money is still needed.

Donations are always accepted, and the spring dinner is set for Thursday, April 11, with doors at the Civic Center opening at 5 p.m. that night. Dinner and a program to follow at 6 p.m.

The scheduled guest speaker is Ron Hall, who co-authored the book “Same Kind of Different as Me” about his friendship with a homeless man at a mission in Fort Worth, Texas.

It is now the basis of a movie by the same name, and Buckley said it provides wonderful insight into the struggles of homeless people and the challenges and rewards that come with running a mission.

When opened, Buckley said breakfast, lunch, and dinner will be served to not only those staying at the shelter but anyone who needs a meal. Many people have places to stay, he said, but struggle to make ends meet.

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Government and politics reporter

Mike Smith is a reporter at the Montana Standard with an emphasis on government and politics.

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