Housing

A RV pulls out from it's parking space behind Lowe's on Friday, July 30, 2021. An affordable housing development is being built across the street.

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A new partnership between the Human Resource Development Council, the Downtown Bozeman Partnership, the city of Bozeman and the Bozeman Police Department aims to help connect unhoused people in Bozeman to resources that can help and educate businesses and property owners on the needs of people living homeless.

The program, called Outreach Bozeman, was announced last week. But BPD community resource officer Marek Ziegler has been working on the project for about a year.

“We care about everybody in this community, and that includes the unhoused and that’s why we’re out there. They’re humans too, and this is a direct result of the rapid growth in our city and the housing crisis,” Ziegler said. “Most of the unhoused that I talk to week in and week out are locals, and most of them are working.”

Each organization involved in Outreach Bozeman brings something different to the table, according to a news release from the Downtown Bozeman Partnership. The HRDC, an organization that already serves people facing homelessness, provides de-escalation trainings to businesses and will continue to operate its homeless services and conduct street outreach in Bozeman and Livingston.

The Bozeman Police Department has begun a weekly “walk-around” in collaboration with HRDC to connect people living homeless with resources, including a relatively new grant provided by the city to help fix broken vehicles owned by people who may not have another place to live.

And, as part of the Outreach Bozeman program, the Downton Business Partnership has disseminated a homeless resource toolkit to downtown business and property owners.

That toolkit outlines available resources and gives a basic rundown of when one should call law enforcement, whether or not to call 911 or the non-emergency line and when not to call. For example, a person challenging to fight someone would be a reason to call 911; a person drinking in public would be a call to the non-emergency line; and someone politely asking for money isn’t a crime and shouldn’t be reported to law enforcement.

“We were starting to get a really high number of calls about stuff that really wasn’t illegal, so that’s why we tried to come up with that list to assist businesses to better decide when to call us,” said Ziegler, who worked with the Downtown Business Partnership to compile the toolkit.

Ziegler is out talking to unhoused people in Bozeman regularly, and continuing that communication will be beneficial in finding effective short- and long-term solutions, he said.

People experiencing homelessness are often the victims of crimes, so Ziegler will take reports from them, talk with them about their concerns and make sure they understand the law as it relates to them.

In addition to helping people, that opens a line of communication and builds a relationship that is beneficial, he said.

“I think they know when I come out, obviously I’m going to enforce the law,” Ziegler said. “I’m also there to assist … . They’re members of our community. They’re us.”

Downtown Business Partnership economic development director Emily Cope said the response to the program from downtown businesses and property owners has been positive.

“We’re just getting the word out to our downtown businesses, property owners and overall community members on the front end helping with the marketing and the overall outreach,” Cope said. “It’s a pilot program, so we’re still kind of feeling our way. HRDC has done a great job with the de-escalation and crisis training … we hope that we’re able to continue to offer education for ourselves and the community.”

Additional information about Outreach Bozeman can be found on the Downtown Bozeman Association’s website at downtownbozeman.org/news/outreach-bozeman.

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Melissa Loveridge can be reached at mloveridge@dailychronicle.com or at (406) 582-2651.

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