Local group fundraising for homeless shelter village
The group is raising funds to acquire at least a third of an acre of land, 20 single occupancy shelters, service office, bathroom, shower, laundry and a community center.
The group is hoping to raise $1.5 million in project start up funds and estimates $400,000 in annual operating expenses, according to the nonprofit.
Each shelter will cost $13,000, plus utilities and shipping.
As of Jan. 9, the group has raised $650 in their GoFundMe campaign.
In the meantime, the group has organized a cold weather drop-in at First United Methodist Church, at the corner of 2nd Avenue North and 6th Street North, where community members can get a hot meal and out of the cold.
Michael Yegerlehner, a Housed Great Falls board member, told The Electric that the shelter is transitional housing.
He said they plan to provide controlled access to the property via fencing with residents and guests will enter the site through the office that will be staffed 24/7.
At least two meals will be served daily in the community center.
Their plan is to find a minimum of a one-third acre site that would be in walking distance of relevant services and/or public transit routes.
Yegerlehner said, “we are able to connect with a wealth of knowledge and experience from Pallet shelters across the U.S. and will model services and procedures that are effective. Several of these are other newly established non-profits who were able to open equivalently sized shelters in two years. We aim to do the same.”
Pallet shelters would be considered an emergency shelter under city code and are allowed with a conditional use permit in the commercial and mixed use, as well as public lands and institutional zoning districts.
A conditional use permit requires an application, with a $1,500 fee; and hearings before the planning board and City Commission.
Yegerlehner said that to work with Pallet, the company that manufactures the shelters, residents need to be able to access housing, public and job services.
Case management and/or social work would be provided on site to help connect residents with services and staff would assist residents during scheduled appointments and daily check-ins, Yegerlehner said.
He said the Housed Great Falls motto is “relationship, trust, community” and that would be their guiding principle for selecting shelter residents.
“The idea is a ‘low barrier’ model, which is not to be confused with a ‘no rules’ model. We will utilize the expertise of other Pallet shelters to develop and implement protocols that provide dignity and safety and ultimately culminate in our motto of relationship, trust, and community. The target group are those individuals that are chronically homeless, are uncomfortable or unable to reside in a traditional shelter, and those who may need extra supports and services,” Yegerlehner said.
For their target group, Yegerlehner said they’re preparing for a three- to six month stay, with up to as long as a year for people to stabilize and access services.
“This may sound like a long time; but when you are working with a population that has a higher than average rate of mental health, trauma, and substance use issues this becomes much more reasonable. People need what they need; and we would rather take the time to help someone heal and end the cycle of homelessness, addiction, and trauma rather than continued displacement,” Yegerlehner said. “This will naturally require us to work in close collaboration with service providers in the city. If we want to make a permanent change in peoples’ lives then both stable shelter and appropriate services need to be provided in tandem.”
For more than a year, First United Methodist Church was allowing people to congregate, sleep and camp on their property causing a number of issues and discussions downtown.
Many downtown businesses and residents were frustrated by the tent encampment that developed, which was removed by August 2022, but people remained on the property.
Members of the church and community came to meetings saying that the city needed to care for the homeless.
The city filed a lawsuit to enforce its zoning regulations when a tent encampment popped up and the church submitted a conditional use permit for the encampment, for which the planning board recommended denial and the application was withdrawn before City Commission consideration.
In November, the church posted no trespassing signs and cleared the property of people sleeping and congregating.