With nighttime temperatures plummeting to 19 below zero this week, more homeless people are turning to the Bozeman Warming Center for overnight shelter.

This week up to 24 individuals a night have used the shelter at 2104 Industrial Drive, said Sara Savage, housing department director for the Human Resource Development Council.

“We're very lucky to be in a larger facility, to meet the growing need,” Savage said. “It's safe and warm and welcoming.”

This is the second winter that the Warming Center has been in a rented building at the corner of Industrial and Griffin drives. It has room for up to 40 people a night, with separate sleeping quarters for men, women and families. The former shelter at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds only held up to 24 people.

Since opening for the season on Nov. 15, the Warming Center has averaged about 20 guests a night, Savage said. The number of people using the shelter are rising, particularly among women and families.

“The Warming Center is the most cost-effective way to ensure nobody freezes overnight,” she said. “I am just so passionate about the Warming Center, so proud to see it grow and evolve and adapt to community needs.”

It costs about $100,000 to keep the shelter open through March 31, and so far HRDC has raised about $75,000 through donations.

“This community is so amazing and generous and supportive,” Savage said.

People who want to help raise the remaining $25,000 can do so at tonight's Christmas Stroll.

HRDC will have a booth at Main Street and Tracy Avenue selling “puppy chow” — people snacks made with chocolate and peanut butter. It will also sell greeting cards by local artist Helen Paulette. Local businesses are also holding fundraisers at the Stroll.

In addition to donations, the Warming Center needs items like toilet paper, paper towels, clean wipes and hand soap, which can be brought to HRDC offices at 32 S. Tracy Ave. Anyone interested in volunteering at the shelter can attend orientation sessions Monday nights at 6 p.m. at HRDC.

The Warming Center is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

On Monday through Friday mornings, Streamline buses take guests to the Salvation Army for breakfast, until the Job Service, Public Library or Gallatin Mental Health Center's Drop-In Center opens. In the evening, HRDC's Community Café on North Seventh Avenue offers free hot meals to all comers. From there, a bus takes homeless guests to the Warming Center.

The Warming Center hasn't reached out to persuade Bozeman's homeless to come in out of the bitter cold, as has Missoula's Poverello Center, which last weekend served a record 119 people. A small number of Bozeman's homeless still prefer to camp out all winter in tents, Savage said. Some don't go to the Warming Center because it has rules against drinking and drugs or they find it intimidating to stay with a large number of people. But they are aware it's available, she said.

Local agencies that formed the Greater Gallatin Homeless Action Coalition worked for years to create a winter shelter, especially after a homeless man froze to death in a U-Haul truck in January 2007. Bozeman no longer gives homeless people bus tickets out of town to other cities' shelters, Savage said.

In addition to the Warming Center, the nonprofit HRDC provides other homeless assistance:

  • The Amos House at 1021 N. Fifth Ave., currently houses five or six men and women. It offers up to six months of housing while clients seek permanent housing and jobs, and coaching on job and life skills like budgeting. Since opening in May 2012, it has served more than 30 people, and more than half its graduates have found permanent housing, a higher success rate than the national average, Savage said. Many clients face challenges such as mental health issues, substance abuse and disabilities.
  • Transition in Place helps homeless families by leasing an apartment and subsidizing rent for up to 12 or 18 months, until the family can take over the full rent. About 80 percent of households have succeeded.
  • Home to Stay gives emergency, short-term help with rent, such as first month's rent plus a deposit, which can run from $1,200 to $2,000 in Bozeman. Helping a family stay in their home, after they've lost a job or had big medical bills or faced eviction, can be a cost-effective way to prevent homelessness, Savage said.

“The people we're serving are from this community,” she said. “The majority have lived in Bozeman a year or longer. They want to survive in this community.”

Gail Schontzler can be reached at gails@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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