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Montana warming centers in need of financial help

Posted at 10:27 AM, Jan 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-20 12:27:42-05

A pair of centers dedicated to keeping those in need warmth during cold weather in southwest Montana are experiencing trouble of their own.

Warming centers like the one at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Bozeman serve as sanctuaries for those without warm places to sleep out of these extreme conditions. But financially speaking, they may have to close their doors early.

“When the temperatures really start dropping or the windchill picks up or it’s a wet night, those are lifesaving services,” HRDC housing director Shari Eslinger said. “The warming center initially started because a gentleman, one of our neighbors, passed away in a U-Haul seeking shelter so it’s a vital, life-saving service that’s being offered.”

With more than 100 people forced to sleep outside in the Bozeman area --even through extreme conditions -- Eslinger says calling warming centers “important” is an understatement.

“We currently are working with 101 households,” Eslinger said. “That’s over 130 individuals that are sleeping in a place not meant for human habitation.”

Between Bozeman and Livingston, centers aim to stay open November through March. But it’s now the middle of January and without $200,000 Bozeman’s shelters may have to close at the end of the month.

“In Bozeman, it’s 100 percent community funded so we don’t have any other funding source that we utilize other than community donations,’ Eslinger stated.

A similar situation stirs over the hill in Livingston, even with some grant funding.

“We’re looking to stay open through the rest of March which is a funding gap of about $34,000,” Eslinger said.

Eslinger says with a growing population of both overall population and seniors experiencing homeless, costs must go up.

“We’re increasing our costs by 40% of what we usually have so it’s hard,” Eslinger explained. “We’re at less than 1% vacancy rate so just trying to find a place and one you can afford is really challenging to do right now.”

For now, Eslinger hopes to raise $15,000 to make it through the month of February – and with 50 to 55 folks looking for a bed each night, help couldn’t come soon enough.

“We still, fortunately, live in a small town, as big as Bozeman’s getting, but Bozeman and Livingston, they take care of their neighbors,” Eslinger says. “It is the most humbling, amazing, beautiful experience.”

Each of the warming centers is typically open 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. every night, excluding the Christ the King Luther Church, which starts taking transfers from the main location in Bozeman at 9 p.m.