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Hidden Homeless: Families struggle to afford housing

Posted at 5:05 PM, Feb 24, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-24 19:05:56-05

BILLINGS - Timothy Olsen never expected to find himself homeless, few people would, but after a divorce and a move back to his home state of Montana it’s the position he and his three children found themselves in.

“I made the decision to return back home, but Montana has changed a lot in just a short amount of time,” Olsen said.

Even though he found a job he couldn’t find a place to live. He simply couldn’t afford it.

“Places that I would be able to rent are now like four times what they were, so I’m trying to take care of three kids, trying to work two jobs, trying to juggle everything. A lot of things are falling through the cracks and it gets to the point where I am staying at a cheap motel barely getting by from week to week,” Olsen said.

Timothy Olsen

It's a position many of the unhoused in Billings find themselves in.

“Family homelessness is the biggest growing demographic nationally and here as well,” said Felicia Burg, the development coordinator for Family Promise of Yellowstone Valley, an organization that partners with dozens of local churches and businesses to provide a community response to homelessness.

It’s where Olsen was able to find some much-needed help and support. Burg says affordable housing is the number one barrier that families they work with face.

“The rental pool in general had decreased in the last couple years due to the housing market. A lot of landlords who had been renting saw an opportunity to sell and make some good money, and those families that are renting then had 30 days to find someplace to go and there just wasn’t any options for those families. So all of a sudden they are faced with homelessness and they never thought they would,” said Burg.

Burg says almost half of the families that came into the emergency shelter last year were fully employed, and most like Olsen have young children.

Burg knows firsthand the struggles many of these families face. She was once homeless herself.

Felicia Burg

“The stereotype says that homeless people are either strung out on drugs and alcohol and they have just lost all sense of responsibility or that they are lazy, just get a job, save first month’s rent and deposit and there you go and you won’t be homeless anymore. And the fact is that these people are working hard, they just can’t afford a place to live,” she said.

“There’s plenty of people that are barely getting by and they are absolutely working hard. And there are plenty of people who were getting by and then something went bad and now they are trying to fill out of the cracks and pull themselves out of that hole,” said Olsen.

Things are started to look up for him after a long climb. He and his family are in temporary housing and he now has an opportunity to get into permanent low-income housing soon.

“Family promise has given me the support to kind of pull myself back up and be the best self that I can and kind of get my feet underneath me so to speak. I couldn’t have done it without them,” Olsen said.

For more information on Family Promise of Yellowstone Valley, click the link below: