File Photo HRDC

The HRDC building in downtown Bozeman.

The Human Resource Development Council has bought a home in south Bozeman with plans to make it an overflow location for the Warming Center, and some neighbors are protesting.

The Bozeman nonprofit purchased the nearly 4,000-square-foot house about two weeks ago. It’s located in the Figgins neighborhood on Westridge Drive near South Third Avenue.

HRDC’s Warming Center is a seasonal emergency shelter that operates November through March to provide a place to stay to anyone in need. People aren’t turned away from the shelter if they comply with HRDC’s behavioral standards.

Last winter, Christ the King Lutheran Church on Durston Road served as an overflow shelter due to limited capacity at the main Warming Center on Industrial Drive.

Shari Eslinger, housing department director for HRDC, said the church posed logistical challenges. For example, the space was not available until 9 p.m., and was not set up for overnight stays, so staff had to put out and take down cots each morning and evening. Eslinger said that added stress for families already living in crisis.

“It was really challenging and hard on the women and families who stayed there,” Eslinger said.

Eslinger said HRDC’s plan is to use the new property as the overflow location. Women and families would be bussed back and forth from the Industrial Drive building to the home on Westridge Drive each evening and morning. They would be at the building overnight from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Having an overflow location is temporary as HRDC is building a new, permanent warming center that it anticipates opening in a few years.

HRDC needs a special use permit to use the home as overflow for the warming center. The city planning department is still reviewing the permit application, which requires an organization to have a management plan in place before it can receive a permit.

HRDC contacted the immediate neighbors of the property on Westridge Drive to let them know of its plans and arranged a meeting Tuesday night.

About 25 people turned out to share concerns and ask questions.

Graham Culver and his family live down the street from the HRDC property. He said at the meeting that while he understands the need for an overflow house, he thinks HRDC has chosen the wrong spot.

“The place you picked for this is terrible. This is the worst possible place,” Culver said.

Culver has two children who walk to Morning Star Elementary, which is within half a mile of the HRDC house. He said that because HRDC does not screen people who stay at the warming center or overflow location, he’s concerned for his family’s safety.

Culver also takes issue with the number of people who could stay at the overflow location. It’s maximum occupancy would be 38 people, including two HRDC staff members. Culver said he doesn’t want a “revolving door” of people coming to the neighborhood each night.

Other neighbors asked questions about the possibility of people bringing weapons into the neighborhood or leaving the house and wandering around at night. A few said they would call the city and voice opposition to the permit that’s under consideration.

Eslinger explained that all personal belongings are checked in when people arrive at the warming center. She said that people are discouraged from leaving the home but are allowed outside to smoke. She said if someone wandered off, staff would call the police for a welfare check on the person.

Other questions came up about police activity and whether it would increase when the overflow warming center opened.

Police Sgt. Travis Munter said in an interview there were six calls for service over six months to Christ the King Lutheran Church last year while it served as the overflow location. He said three of the six were completely unrelated to the warming center.

Lindean Barnett Christenson, the pastor at the church, said at Tuesday’s meeting that HRDC took care of any concerns the church had and that she didn’t see any negative impacts from the overflow warming center.

Ginger Dynneson, a member of the church who lives in the Figgins neighborhood, said during the meeting that she thinks the people who stay at the warming center are grateful for shelter.

“It’s hard for me to hear that there’s less compassion going on here for those struggling families,” Dynneson said.

Eslinger said HRDC has been looking for a new place to house overflow from the warming center for years but that the nonprofit hasn’t been able to find the right fit. She said HRDC is considering renting another place for overflow instead of using the recently purchased house, but there’s no guarantee that’ll work out.

Eslinger said that while all concerns are valid, the hypotheticals brought up at the meeting are uncommon.

“We work with that population each day, and we don’t see a lot of those worst-case-scenarios that were brought up, but it’s a good exercise to talk about them,” Eslinger.

Shaylee Ragar can be reached at sragar@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2607. Follow her on Twitter @shay_ragar.

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