Homeless population growing, moving out of downtown - KULR8.com | Montana's News Leader | Billings, MT

Homeless population growing, moving out of downtown

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BILLINGS, Mont. -

Some West End residents have expressed concern about a growing population of homeless people in the area.

In the last year, the city's homeless population has increased by 25%, according to a point in time survey done by the Downtown Billings Association.In 2013, the number of homeless people in the city was 733, when the survey was done again, on roughly the same date in 2014, it showed 1,004 homeless in the city.

Downtown Billings has been home to the majority of the homeless population, most of the resources are there, but more recently the homeless population has started to disperse, moving to other areas of town.

"Downtown we have a lot of the actual resources but sometimes they don't find what they need here so they go out in search of other resources. Or they might find an area where they feel safer because they are getting away from a certain population in that certain area so they don't feel comfortable there," said Matt Lennick, the downtown resource officer for Billings Police.

Many of the homeless have been willing to give up proximity to resources, if they find they can make money elsewhere, like on the west end.

"If they learn there is a good way to make money out west or in the Heights or on the South Side, they're going to go there because it's easy money, it's fast.," said Officer Lennick.

But police say the best way to help is to not give them money.

"If you want to contribute to that population and you want to be helpful do it to an agency that is already established and knows how to best serve that population," said Officer Lennick.

For many of them  the cost of living is too high.

"If you have an increase like that coupled with an issue like housing that is at a premium you're going to see more and more that are expelled into the streets," said Lisa Harmon, executive director of the Downtown Billings Association.  "Imagine being an entry level worker and trying to afford our rental market right now, it's really difficult. I mean if you look at the numbers at the mission, they're busy, they're full, people are struggling to find that permanent housing."

We are told the West End and the Heights are seeing more homeless, partly due to the fact downtown is more heavily patrolled.

 

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