Posted: Jul 10, 2013 9:14 PM by Victoria Fregoso - MTN News
BILLINGS - Everyday it's a question of where will I stay or what, if anything, will I eat? That's a day to day challenge for the homeless roaming the streets of Billings. "About 125 families and 600 people are affected by homelessness any given night in Billings," said Lisa Harmon with the Downtown Billings Association.
With numbers that large, places like the Hub drop in center on North 27th Street aim to help clients from all walks of life. They say there are different definitions of exactly who is a homeless person. "There are maybe two or three generations living in one household," said Joe Chalupa, Team Lead for the Hub. "There are just people going from friends to friends house and there are people sleeping in parks and in garbage dumpsters."
At the Hub, which serves at the Mental Health Center of Billings, the number of people walking through the doors has nearly tripled over the past 17 years, from 65 people a day, to over 180, sometimes, 200. "In downtown Billings, we are a catch basin for people at risk because we have a lot of the social service providers here," Harmon said.
Billings easily ranks as close to, if not the number one city in the state with the largest homeless community. "I think part of the awareness and the numbers increasing are because the stigma is being reduced and people are realizing there is assistance out there. So they're trying to partake in what's available," Chalupa said.
A survey by local advocates shows an estimated 2,500 homeless people will call Billings home throughout the course of a year. Of those, the Billings Police Department comes face to face with only a fraction. "About 150 is what they kind of estimate that they deal with or come in contact with or have association with on a regular basis in the Billings community," said Billings Police Lt. Kevin Iffland.
Not all of the officer to homeless contacts are negative but alcohol remains the largest issue.
The Downtown Billings Association is looking to other programs throughout the US with high success rates. Some work with as many as 70 agencies to tackle the homeless issue. "So if we could do a little better of a job in our delivery of service in that kind of provider network, oh my gosh, I think it would be better for the city," Harmon said.
The number of homeless people impacts some of our smallest residents as well. In the 2012 school year, a survey found more than 500 children in Billings School District 2 were defined as homeless.