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Temporary Shelter Opens In Billings With COVID-19, Non-COVID Rooms

The Off the Streets Shelter in the former Western Inn, taken Nov 10, 2020.
Kayla Desroches, YPR
The Off the Streets Shelter in the former Western Inn, taken Nov 10, 2020.

Social services in Billings are opening a temporary shelter to meet the city’s need for isolated sleeping spaces as COVID-19 cases rise and temperatures drop.

The Off the Streets Shelter just north of downtown Billings is the creation of local healthcare and social service organizations in a coalition aimed at decreasing homelessness in the area.

Yellowstone County Continuum of Care expects the 50 to 60 person capacity at the former Western Inn to handle any overflow of people seeking a space to sleep at local shelters over the next year.

Site manager Craig Barthel says COVID-19 has caused an increase in homelessness in Billings.

“We’re seeing more people evicted, we’re seeing more agencies who have closed or limited their services. And we’re seeing homelessness in a new way, even on the West End," Barthel said.

Barthel says about half the rooms are aimed at people not able to find a bed in other shelters due to active drug or alcohol use, physical disability or other limiting factors. The shelter made the other 20 rooms available for full time COVID-19 quarantine or isolation, according to Barthel.

“We’ve had as many as 8 or as few as zero," Barthel said.

Shawn Hinz, vice president of public health services with RiverStone Health, says the shelter costs between $100,000 and $150,000 a month, with funding from RiverStone Health and federal CARES Act dollars.

Meanwhile, Yellowstone County Continuum of Care is working on a five year plan to answer the need for more overnight shelters for those with active addiction and other barriers.

Copyright 2020 Yellowstone Public Radio

Kayla Desroches reports for Yellowstone Public Radio in Billings. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and stayed in the city for college, where she hosted a radio show that featured serialized dramas like the Shadow and Suspense. In her pathway to full employment, she interned at WNYC in New York City and KTOO in Juneau, Alaska. She then spent a few years on the island of Kodiak, Alaska, where she transitioned from reporter to news director before moving to Montana.
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