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Affordable housing, public transit options and mental health services top the list of community needs for Bozeman and surrounding towns, according to a freshly released study by nonprofit HRDC.

The study, a community needs assessment focusing on towns and cities in Gallatin, Park and Meagher counties, is aimed at guiding the work of HRDC, the entity that provides much of the region’s social safety net using money from government grants and community donations.

Its conclusions are based on survey data, as well as a series of town hall meetings held last fall, said the HRDC’s Maggie Sizemore. As the nonprofit considers ways to address the needs it has identified, it plans to hold another series of town halls starting in Livingston on May 8 and ending in West Yellowstone on May 30.

Housing, Sizemore said, came up as a primary issue across the board — in comparatively isolated towns like White Sulphur Springs, bedroom communities like Three Forks and Yellowstone National Park gateways Gardiner and West Yellowstone.

Gardiner and West Yellowstone are both essentially landlocked, Sizemore said, meaning they don’t have convenient space to add new housing. Those towns are also, she said, seeing some longtime rental stock being converted to short-term, Airbnb-style rentals, providing tourists places to stay but limiting the housing options available to residents.

In contrast, the worry in White Sulphur, 72 miles north of Livingston, is more about housing quality, the needs assessment says. Many homes in the town are older or in poor repair.

Then there are places like Three Forks, within commuting distance of Bozeman’s increasingly pricey housing market and feeling the heat.

“For those closer towns to Bozeman, it’s the overflow,” Sizemore said. “So that’s tough.”

On a transportation front, the needs assessment indicates people are looking for more options, particularly in far-flung towns, she said.

Seniors and seasonal workers don’t necessarily have personal vehicles for getting around, meaning they often depend on employers or bus services like the Bozeman-area Streamline system, which currently reaches as far as Belgrade and, on a limited schedule, Livingston.

With residents in more isolated towns looking at long commutes into bigger towns for prescriptions or groceries, shared transportation services can also help families looking to save on fuel costs, Sizemore said.

Mental health services are also a common concern, the study indicates.

Not every smaller town has a full-time counselor or addiction treatment services available, Sizemore said, and — given the stigma that tends to exist around mental health problems — people who need help can be hesitant to seek it out in small town offices where their neighbors can see them walk in the door.

While providing mental health services directly isn’t something HRDC does, she said, the nonprofit is looking at ways to teach people about programs like the 211 24-hour crisis line.

A strategic plan to help guide HRDC’s efforts in the coming years will be drafted, taking into account the needs assessment’s findings, Sizemore said. The project should be done this summer.

The upcoming town hall meetings, discussing this study’s findings, are scheduled for the following dates:

  • Livingston city-county community room, Monday, May 8, 5:30 p.m.
  • Gardiner community room, Tuesday, May 9, 7:15 p.m.
  • Belgrade library, Thursday, May 11, 5:30 p.m.
  • Big Sky Chapel, Monday, May 15, 6:30 p.m.
  • Willson School library in Bozeman, Wednesday, May 17, 6 p.m.
  • Three Forks, time and location TBA, Thursday, May 18
  • 2 Basset Brewery in White Sulphur Springs, Tuesday, May 23, 6 p.m.
  • Manhattan Senior Center, Wednesday, May 24, 6 p.m.
  • West Yellowstone Povah Community Center, Tuesday, May 30, 6 p.m.

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Eric Dietrich can be reached at 406-582-2628 or edietrich@dailychronicle.com. He is on Twitter at @eidietrich.

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