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New homeless shelter planned for Billings

Off The Streets.jpg
Posted at 9:43 PM, Mar 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-18 11:49:29-04

BILLINGS - The Off The Streets Shelter, run by the Continuum Of Care, closed at the end of 2021 and took care of about 100 people a night for a little more than a year.

Some of those people are now staying at First Congregational Church, but that will end in April.

And so a new group, the Off the streets Corporation has come out and hopes to put together a new shelter.

"We think ending homelessness in Billings is possible," said Craig Barthel, Off The Streets Corporation founder. "And what we'll really work hard at Off The Streets in doing, is working with all those agencies in town that work to serve the same population. So the person begins to feel better about themselves and really believes that maybe they can do this because they can. But it takes somebody believing in them for that usually for that first step to happen. And then you just stabilize them with sleep and food and all those things that they need those basic essentials is what off the streets really will provide."

Craig Barthel.jpg
KTVQ photo

Barthel was the site director of the former Off The Streets shelter at the Western Inn for 14 months.

It was a low barrier shelter, which means it would care for anyone including those with addiction or mental illness.

He said the shelter was a test run and he plans on having a similar shelter in place by November.

"It's something that we just feel really strongly," Barthel said. "Our faith just compels us to do this and to do it well."

Barthel says Off The Streets will run a new low barrier shelter and try to take care of what he calls the chronically homeless.

The old shelter started with COVID funds and it was a success that Barthel wants to continue.

"It focuses on stabilizing people through relationship builders," he said. "So you just really meet that person where they are befriend them, and then help walk beside them as they navigate how to get off the streets permanently."

"The crime, the drugs everything like that, fortunately, I've been able to avoid those circumstances," said Jason Lee, who stayed at the shelter. "And through Craig's help and through the help of the community, we've been blessed. Absolutely."

"Just somewhere to be warm, safe, take a shower, you know, be human," Allanna Washington said about the Off The Streets shelter.

First Congregational Church has taken care of about 30 a night since December 30 and will close on April 3, according to Lisa Harmon, senior pastor.

Barthel says he's looking for a new building.

"We have our sights set on a couple different options," Barthel said. "We want to have capacity for 300 people."

The Off The Streets Corporation has started the fundraising, and will keep looking for donations and grants.