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Billings residents seeking new homes after federal aid expires

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Posted at 8:03 AM, Mar 31, 2023

BILLINGS — Hundreds of families in Billings are confronting a rude reality as they have now been forced out on the street.

The Montana Emergency Rental Assistance Program (MERA), which doled out federal money for housing aid since the pandemic, is coming to an end this month. It provided money to allow low-income families to live in hotels for several months.

Two of those people who were forced out of Billings hotels are now living in their car.

Not only are they looking for housing, but a tough situation is worse: They need a place for their pets as well.

"This (car) is home sweet home at the moment. It's cold. You have to turn the car off and on throughout the night just to stay warm," said evicted resident Alisha Shinn on Wednesday.

That’s the unfortunate reality for Shinn and her friend Mollie Thayer after being unexpectedly tossed out of their temporary housing on Monday.

"We get a knock on our door yesterday and they gave us an hour to get out. I was on my way to work. I couldn’t even go to work yesterday because of it," said Thayer on Wednesday.

They’ve been living in hotels since November. Being able to use the MERA program, a program they said often didn’t work as intended because they were still charged for the room.

"I’ve sold clothes, I’ve sold jewelry, I’ve sold my gun collection, my coin collection. I have nothing else to give," added Shinn.

It's harder to make ends meet now that they don’t have a roof over their head, even with full-time jobs. And on top of that, they have no place for furry family members.

"It was one of the hardest things that I had to do, was say goodbye to her yesterday. They don’t really understand what’s going on," Thayer added.

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Shinn and Thayer were able to connect with the Yellowstone Valley Animal Shelter, which was able to take in her dog and cat temporarily.

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However, it's not something they can do very often, according to Gabi Fry, the shelter's director of operations.

"In very, very rare circumstances, we are able to take in animals on an emergency short-term basis, like overnight," said Fry Wednesday.

She said the shelter is contracted to take in strays, those that are brought in by animal control, and surrenders, meaning there’s simply not enough room.

However, she hopes that will change in the future.

"We see the need. We understand this is a need that our community and most communities have, is this safety-net fostering. And it’s something that we’re trying to put together. It’s in the works but we’re not there yet," added Fry.

In the meantime, Shinn and Thayer are grateful for the help and that their pets are safe. They say this is a situation they can’t wait to put behind them, but they know challenges are ahead. They are Just two of the estimated 1,600 hundred residents who are or will soon be facing evictions.

"All we want is a permanent place to call home. That’s all. And it just seems really hard right now. Having to do all this stuff on the fly, it’s not easy," Thayer said.