Welcome Home Billings, the Ten Year Plan to Impact Chronic Homelessness, officially began in 2009, with the involvement of the City of Billings and over 50 local organizations serving the homeless. Its development was part of a national movement with “Ten Year Plans” starting to take shape nationwide in 2005. That year, Billings was chosen as a pilot project for the Montana Council on Homelessness. In June of 2006, the Mayor’s Committee on Homelessness was formed by appointment by both the City Council and Mayor Ron Tussing.
In addition to the Mayor’s Committee, 2006 also saw the development of the second major homelessness organization locally, the Billings Area Resource Network (BARN). While the Mayor’s Committee was conceived as a broad group of leadership in Billings charged with planning to end homelessness, BARN took over much of the responsibilities Yellowstone County Homeless Board. It served as the community network for agencies and organization that are involved with homelessness.
In these roles, the Mayor’s Committee and BARN continued to bring the Billings community closer in both planning and taking action to end homelessness in our our community. Since the beginning of this in 2006, we have seen major steps forward.
Within the first year, Billings saw the creation of the Community Crisis Center, a collaborative project of local hospitals that provide crisis support and treatment services to those in need. By providing a safe place where people can access support, the Crisis Center has served an important role in preventing problems by deescalating them sooner, in addition to bridging gaps in service for many of Billings’ homeless.
In 2007, Billings began holding Project Homeless Connect, now known as Billings Community Connect. This one day, one stop, event allows people who are homeless, at-risk of homelessness, or are struggling to get by to connect with a range of services available to them in Billings.
Billings Metro VISTA Program also began in 2007. This project has brought more than thirty full-time yearlong volunteers to Billings to work on homeless and anti-poverty programs.
More recently, Billings has gained transitional housing for homeless veterans through the creation of Volunteers of America Independence Hall, as well as the expansion of social enterprise and the “Housing First” concept from two different collaborations.
In January 2010, Rimrock Foundation and the Salvation Army began a combined Housing, Treatment and Employment initiative for chronically homeless individuals focused on responding comprehensively to the interwoven needs of participants.
Later that year, the Interfaith Housing Network, now known as Family Promise, and the Community Development Division jointly developed “Housing First” apartments that seek to reduce lengths of shelter stays, which has shown to greatly increase personal outcomes for participants in other areas as well.
Since 2010, local organizations have also been very successful in efforts to increase food security through the development of community gardens. Currently, members of Welcome Home Billings are hosting three such gardens in the area.
In 2013, Tumbleweed introduced their HopeLink program. This program provides independent housing and support services for homeless youth in Billings. It can provide independent living situations for up to 20 youths that need it. Later that year, the first ever Youth Count! was completed by VISTAs. This project attempted to count all the homeless youths in Billings and worked to shed light on this issue.
The members of Billings’ Ten Year Plan to Impact Chronic Homelessness are hopeful and determined to make further strides to reduce homelessness in the community. While difficult economic conditions have made it particularly hard for American households to remain self-sufficient over the last few years, Billings believes the issue of homelessness is a persistent social issue and efforts to end it must be done in an ongoing fashion.
We invite you to get involved in the Billings effort, be part of the meetings, volunteer, or donate.
Together We Can End Homelessness!