Here in Billings, we offer many opportunities for the homeless. Shelters, housing, food, clothing, counseling, healthcare, and more. However, in November, the City of Billings ordered Family Promise of Yellowstone Valley to cease its church-based emergency shelter program.

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Why Did The City Do That?

According to the order:

Overnight lodging in a church is considered a change of use of the building and is not allowed unless the church has gone through a change of use process . . . and any required upgrades are made, inspected, and approved.

Sounds like a money grab by the city, to me.

Thankfully, Senator Jeremy Trebas of Great Falls announced SB 195, which protects the right of Montana churches to use their buildings to accommodate overnight visitors for religious retreats and temporary shelter for those who need it.

How Has This Hurt The Homeless?

Family Promise of Yellowstone Valley has been forced to turn away over 50 families since the order, as the city of Billings has shut down its emergency shelter program.

Executive Director Lisa Donnot of FPYV shared this:

For almost 20 years, FPYV has partnered with more than 30 churches of all faiths and over 1,500 annual volunteers to lift more than 5,000 Montanans out of homelessness without any taxpayer expense. All that work is put at risk if the doors of willing churches are sealed shut by red tape.

And Montana Senator Jeremy Trebas of Great Falls added:

If the choice is between families freezing in harsh weather outside and churches opening their doors to those in need, it’s clear what Montana should do.

I agree. If churches wish to become emergency shelters for those who need a place, let them. Rather than wrap the church in legal red tape, and demand more money in the process.

FPYV is working with the City of Billings on its concerns outlined in the order. Amendments to SB 145 by Senator Trebas would allow churches to provide temporary overnight accommodations up to 75 days a year if they meet "common-sense safety requirements".

What are your thoughts on the city blocking access for the homeless? Let us know on AppChat or Facebook.

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