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Conversation continues on housing crisis and unsheltered population

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Posted at 1:15 PM, Sep 07, 2023

HELENA — This week, the housing crisis and unsheltered discussion continued at Our Place.

“You know, it used to be run next door for a cup of sugar. Now people are needing more than a cup of sugar,” says Executive Director of Good Samaritan Ministries, Theresa Ortega.

Approximately 75 people showed up to the 2nd of 5 discussions based around the topic of homelessness, the housing crisis, and the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder, “Rough Sleepers”. The book dives into the real-life story of Dr. Jim O’Connell caring for the unsheltered in Boston.

Plymouth Church in partnership with the Lewis and Clark Library, United Way, the Montana Jewish Project, Good Samaritan, and the Helena United Methodist Churches is working to put on this 5-week discussion for the community.

The 2nd discussion centered around the idea of “Who is My Neighbor?” During the meeting, attendees heard from those who work directly with the unsheltered population such as Theresa Ortega of Good Samaritan and Jeff Buscher of United Way. Stories of the homeless population right here in Helena were told to the public and a period of questions and answers also occurred during the hour-long discussion.

Charles Wei, Reverand at Plymouth Congregational Church, says that this discussion is trying to show the humanity in those who have fallen on hard times and exemplify the fact that these folks are everyone’s neighbors.

“So, we're trying to put a human face on the issue, and we're trying to lower that NIMBYism that happens, you know, the whole not in my backyard, to get people to be more accepting, more loving, more generous, and think hey, you know, these are my neighbors. We need to take care of them,” says Wei.

Next week’s discussion will occur on September 13th at the Montana Jewish Project and the theme will be “What’s Education Got to Do With It?”

Each upcoming discussion will be held at noon that day.

September 13 at the Montana Jewish Project (historic Temple Emanu-El), 515 N. Ewing

“What’s Education Got to Do With It?” (information from an educator, social worker and a parent interacting with unsheltered children and adults), participants include Michele Zentz, Homeless Liaison for Helena Schools, Siobhan Hathhorn, Chair of the Helena School Board Trustees, Jaymie Sheldahl, Family and Community Partnerships for Rocky Mountain Development Council Head Start with Jennifer Hedges.

September 20 at Covenant United Methodist Church, 2330 E. Broadway

“Practical Considerations and Overwhelming Needs” (a perspective from local government regarding low-income housing and the challenges the city and county face) facilitated County Commissioner Andy Hunthausen and Mayor Wilmot Collins

September 27 at Plymouth Church – UCC, 400 S. Oakes (lunch provided)

“What About Drugs, Addictions, Mental Health and Other Life Threatening Concerns on the Streets”, facilitated by Teresa KelleyBrewer, PureView Health Center, Healthcare for the Homeless, Shandy Day, Nurse Care Manager, with Ryan Lehman, Community Health Worker, St. Peter’s Health