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Helena Zoning Commission recommends low-barrier emergency women's shelter, Ruth's Place, in four to one vote

Zoning Commission Meeting
Posted at 9:48 AM, Dec 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-07 11:48:44-05

HELENA — Tensions were high on Wednesday night as the Helena Zoning Commission recommended moving forward with Good Samaritan's proposed low-barrier emergency women's shelter.

Ara Babcock, Associate Coordinator for Good Samaritan, said, "This is about human dignity. Everybody deserves something over their heads. They deserve to feel like humans. They deserve a bathroom. They deserve food. They deserve everything that you and I deserve on a daily basis, and they do not deserve anything that is less."

In a four-to-one vote, commission leaders approved the conditional use permit, with an amendment to condition three, limiting the shelter operations to just October 1 through May 1 of 2024. The commission will then revisit the topic.

The shelter would be located adjacent to our place at 648 N. Jackson Street in the space currently occupied by simple cremations and would have a maximum of 26 beds.

The emergency women's shelter would be named Ruth's Place, and it would run during the hours of 4:00 p.m. To 9:00 a.m.

Many of those opposed were business owners, like the owner of Downtown Barbershop on N. Last Chance Gulch. He said picking up needles, beer cans, and human feces is a daily occurrence for him and that he's lost customers.

"They're afraid to come into your business because of what's going on. It's wrong, and I'm tired," he said.

Others opposing the conditional use permit were homeowners like Staci Evangeline, who lives on Jackson Street.

"To me and my neighbors, this proposal is not whether or not an emergency shelter should be opened. It's whether or not we get to feel safe walking in our neighborhood if we get to enjoy sitting in our homes free from outside noise, or if we get to live in a neighborhood free from the accumulation of refuges," Evangeline said.

Women using the facility would not have to be sober, seeking addiction or mental health treatment plans, and would not have to participate in programs in exchange for housing or other resources. However, drugs and alcohol would not be allowed on the premises.

Public Comment Line

Maggie Bornstein is just one public commentator who has personal experience with homelessness.

She said, "In 2017, after experiencing chronic homelessness, my sister died on the sidewalk, which was a remarkably challenging thing in my life, and I think often about how I need to be the advocate that she was. If she was here, she would be pounding the table to convince you to support this conditional use permit because it would have been life-changing for her."

The proposed permit will now move to the City Commission, possibly at their meeting on December 18th. If approved, Ruth's Place could open as soon as February.