Homeless in Bozeman

Who, Where Why, What do they do all day?

Susan Floerchinger  |   Wednesday Dec. 31st, 2014

Who are the homeless in Bozeman? Why do they come here? What do they do during the hours they are not allowed at the Warming Center, or within the safe, warm walls of Family Promise and the other shelters they may be fortunate enough to locate? Why are they without a residence to call their own? Is it because of substance abuse, gambling issues, foreclosure on their once American dream? Perhaps both parents lost their jobs and have not been able to secure work that would once more place them on the perceived rolls of a contributing member to society. Is it because there is no affordable housing in Bozeman that prevent those who are working full time jobs, from securing housing? Or is it discrimination and a lack of compassion from those who could hire them, lower the rents so that they could afford to pay for a home with the meager wages that are offered for an honest day’s work?

A report titled OUT OF REACH, put out in 2012 by the National Low Income Housing Coalition states the hourly wage necessary to afford a two bedroom apartment in Gallatin County was $13.88, while the rent ran $722, and the income was $28,880; which meant it took 1.8 full time jobs to afford the rents in place. The report also states that 38% of all households rented between 2006 and 2010. With the soaring cost of housing in the valley and the lack of higher wages it is easy to see why so many of the residents in Bozeman have become the working poor and lost their housing through foreclosure or the inability to come up with double the deposit for a rental unit due to their credit rating or lack of wages. According to Realtor.com the average rental price for a two bedroom unit in 2014 is $1,300, overall average rent is $918.

The homeless in Bozeman do not have very many choices of where they may find a bed for the night, the Warming Center is only available in the winter months, and Family Promise is available to families only. Some choose to sleep where ever they can find a semi warm spot because they do not want to follow the rules governing  the facility. Some do not feel safe sleeping in an area where there are so many people they do not know or trust due to past negative experiences.

Who are the homeless in Bozeman and where do they come from? Employees at the Bozeman Public Library feel that most of Bozeman’s homeless are the working poor. The Drop-In-Center also states that the majority of the homeless are not just passing through. So where do the homeless go during the day and times when the shelters are limited or non-existent local programs?

One place many of the homeless go is to the library as they do not have to purchase anything and it is alright to be there for hours at a time. They spend their time either reading, watching DVD’s or utilizing the computers to look for work, and checking email to stay in touch with family and friends back home. They do not announce that they are homeless, nor is it easy to tell they are homeless. Their behavior is overall one of respect and normal. Terri Dood states that just because someone has bad behavior, and may not smell the best doesn’t mean that they are homeless. If they get complaints about a person’s scent or behavior they will talk to them, inform them  that perhaps a shower is necessary and where they can do that, or that they need to keep their voices down. Basically the interaction with those who may be homeless has been one of general respect and is positive.

At the Drop-In-Center, you can see people sitting around reading, hanging out, and maybe doing their laundry; as the Center offers that service for free. Bart states that most of the homeless that hang out there come for the hot lunch and ability to do laundry, but they do not utilize the Mental Health Services that are offered.  He also states that interaction with other people is another reason they come there. “They mostly tell us if they are homeless or not so that they can utilize the hot lunch and laundry facility. There is one washer and dry they can use and soap is also provided for free.” The Drop-In-Center has been open for about five to six years, and in the current location for three to four years. Bart also states that there is a larger influx of homeless people during the winter months. When asked why he thinks they come to Bozeman, he states that he has heard that Bozeman is more friendlier than other cities in Montana.

One other place you can find Bozeman’s homeless is congregating outside of the Community Cafe in the late afternoon before it opens. Lyra says they serve a diverse population and never ask or make the assumption someone is homeless. When there are a few people gathered outside the cafe before it opens they may be asked to please pick up the garbage in the parking lot, or perhaps come in and help do any dishes that may have stacked up during the days meal preparation. They have never had anyone try and brake into the cafe and have found the behavior of those utilizing the cafe to be one of respect, understanding and appreciation. Lyra states that they have a variety of programs such as the Child and Adult Care Food Program, Healthy Kids, and the Summer lunch program and get their funding mostly from donations from individuals, some tips left on the table and soon will be working with the Sponsorship Program to help continue serving the community with delicious, healthy meals.

Family Promise provides, a nonprofit network of 20 participating congregations, provides shelter and opportunities to local homeless families at 1/3 less the cost of operating a traditional shelter. Family Promise provides food, clothing and shelter free of charge for families up to 90 days. These families work with a social worker to develop plans to find and maintain employment while setting aside money for savings. These families work during the day at a job or finding work, filling out job applications and learning how to prevent losing their housing, and finding assistance to help keep them stable in today’s economy. The children of these families continue to attend school during the day, even though some of them feel they could help their parents out better by dropping out and getting a job at a fast food place. Eventually they  come to realize that staying in school is the best choice for all in the long run.

Sergeant Jeremy Kopp states the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Department does not have a specific policy when dealing with the homeless population. They have guidelines to follow when interacting with them. These guidelines instruct officers to help get the homeless person in contact with the appropriate resources available in the county. During the winter the Sheriff’s Department has little interaction with the homeless as they move closer into town where it is easier to get to the resources. They have a larger interaction with them during the summer as it is easier to live outside. They see camps spread out up to Hyalite. Their interaction with the homeless has been mostly positive as it is not their fault they ended up where they are and should be treated with respect and dignity. Sergeant Kopp states he helped HRDC develop the original model for the Warming Center and it has been amazing to watch it grow from the small building at the fairgrounds to the facility they now have at 2104 Industrial Drive. The Sheriff’s Department works hard to get the homeless in contact with the resources that are available here. Sergeant Kopp has heard that in the past some communities would buy bus tickets for the homeless in order to remove them; Gallatin County tries to be compassionate instead.