Some of the coldest temperatures of this already bitterly cold week are forecast over the next 12 to 24 hours. Homeless shelters are trying to help Montana’s most vulnerable during this weather emergency.
The two homeless shelters operated by Montana Rescue Mission in Billings go into overdrive when the mercury dips below zero.
According to Mission spokeswoman Denise Smith, each shelter typically houses an average of 70 to 80 people a night.
Those numbers almost double in sub-zero weather:
"We’ll accommodate anybody we can accommodate, " Smith says. "We don’t want anybody dying or freezing on the street."
Smith says Montana Rescue Mission practices what it calls "Code Blue" protocols during extremely cold weather:
"Normally we are a sober living facility. But in Code Blue status we allow anybody off the street to have a warm place to stay."
The Butte Rescue Mission has a similar policy. But any drug users seeking shelter from the cold who cause a disturbance are taken to the county jail. They won’t face charges, but are only there to ensure everyone’s safety.
The Butte Rescue Mission is a lifeline for the homeless during cold snaps. Case manager Amoreena Lyons says the shelter is a very busy place when the mercury dips below zero for days at a time:
"The Butte Rescue Mission covers seven counties. Everyone knows to come here to get warm and fed," Lyons says. "The police bring them down here, the hospital sends [the homeless] here, the police will bring people down here who aren’t in trouble, but need a place to stay for the night as well."
The Butte Rescue Mission typically doesn’t allow clients to bring pets in its shelter. It does, however, partner with a local animal welfare group which will care for the pets of mission residents.
Amoreena Lyons says the Butte shelter has so far not experienced any shortages of basic supplies.
Back in Billings, the Montana Rescue Mission’s Denise Smith says frostbite is always a risk for the homeless in the winter:
"Oh yeah, it happens all the time."
Montana Rescue Mission is handing out lots of donated coats, hats and gloves – even bus passes for shelter residents who don’t have a car, but need to safely get to work.