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Billings YWCA receives $1M surprise gift for new shelter

Posted at 12:45 PM, Dec 19, 2020

YWCA Billings is a big step closer to its $3 million project to house the homeless and victims of domestic violence.

The nonprofit announced Wednesday that it had received a $1 million grant from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, which will go toward construction of a 24-unit complex.

The YWCA has space on its campus at 909 Wyoming Ave. for the building but no money. That's when Scott stepped in with the surprise, no-strings-attached grant, which officials at the YWCA didn't apply for and didn't know was coming.

"This amazing gift provides solid footing for our going out to the community and other foundations for help in raising the remaining $2 million needed to construct this vitally important addition to our campus to help address family homeless. Ms. Scott’s donation is truly a gift to our entire community,” said Merry Lee Olson, the group's CEO.

Scott is the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos and helped the billionaire found tech giant Amazon. She's the third-richest woman in the world (worth $55 billion, according to Forbes) and signed the Giving Pledge last year, pledging to give most of her fortune to charity, according to NPR.

In recent months, Scott has given away about $4 billion to 384 groups that provide basic needs and fight systemic inequality nationwide, she wrote in a post on Medium.

In the past year, the Billings YWCA has provided more than 8,500 shelter nights and its current facility, and the COVID pandemic has increased demand, according to Olson.

The proposed new facility will have 24 studio apartments, laundry facilities, counseling and case management offices, along with 24/7 helplines, which assisted with 4,775 callers in the last year.

YWCA Billings’ existing Gateway Shelter is the only 24-hour, 365-day-per year secured facility in an 18,500 square mile area, and last year the people who came there for protection were from 22 of Montana’s 56 counties, three American Indian Reservations, and seven other states.