The Butte-Silver Bow Zoning Board approved a permit Thursday night allowing the Butte Rescue Mission to locate a homeless shelter on the northern edge of the city’s warehouse district.
The board voted 5-1 for the permit but it comes with numerous conditions, including property deed changes approved by BNSF Railroad and state and federal environmental regulators.
The mission also needs various county permits and must meet landscaping requirements, which include putting in new sidewalks and curbs, to have a shelter on a 1.6-acre lot at the corner of Arizona and East Platinum streets.
Mission officials say they're confident they can meet the demands so 11 portable housing units can be moved from North Dakota to the spot at 610 E. Platinum Street, just southeast of the Silver Bow Homes housing complex, to serve as a shelter.
Fire officials forced the mission to close its longstanding shelter at 1204 E. Second St. in April because of code violations and safety concerns. Mission officials have pursued three new locations this year, but none have panned out.
When board Chairman David Wing announced the 5-1 vote, the mission’s executive director, Rocky Lyons, welled up with tears and moments later, she hugged several backers.
“It’s been a long 11 months working on this and I think they made the right decision,” Lyons told reporters. “I can’t wait for them to see our campus when it is done.”
Despite remaining hurdles, mission officials hope the housing units can open by April. The plan is to use an existing warehouse on the site for day programs to help people find work and restore their lives, but major renovations are needed first so that might take longer to establish.
Two of the previously proposed sites — the vacant Homeward Bound building Uptown and the empty Madison School on the Flat — drew heated opposition from neighbors and businesses who did not want a homeless shelter in their area.
Action Inc., a nonprofit social services agency, would not sell the Homeward Bound building to the mission last April. But Action Inc. plans to open the building as a temporary shelter Friday, saying people could freeze to death without it.
Three people spoke against the proposal Thursday night, including a homeowner who lives near the site. He said he had fixed up the property and wanted to open a coffee shop and was worried how a shelter could affect business.
Two others — Larry Juhl and Jim Daily — live very close to the Second Street house that served as the mission’s shelter for 41 years.
They raised concerns a few years ago, long before the shelter was closed, saying the mission should take responsibility for the homeless and transients it attracts and sometimes turns away, leaving neighbors to deal with unruly behavior, crime and drug needles and whiskey bottles left about.
Daily told board members Thursday that their neighborhood has improved immensely since the shelter was closed. There is less foot traffic and “the noise from residents at the mission fighting … and bellyaching is gone,” he said.
He predicted similar problems for residents and businesses near the new location.
“They are not welcome in any neighborhood in the city of Butte,” he said.
But Wing, the board chairman, said the permit could be revoked if mission officials did not fulfill the numerous conditions before them.
Board member Rocko Mulcahy said the current proposal was closer to a “middle ground” than previous sites.
“We are talking about a real humanitarian challenge and I think the goal is to find a balance,” he said.
Board member Todd Collins cast the lone no vote, saying he wasn’t sure the location was right. But he also said no matter what the board did, some people wouldn’t like it.
“That is just a fact,” he said.