BILLINGS — As snow falls and bitter cold sets in, anyone who has to be outside in Billings heads back inside as quickly as possible. But what if that wasn’t an option?
That issue is the main reason the local chapter of the Salvation Army will construct a tiny home village in order to help the growing Billings homeless population.
"When you have eight inches of snow on your sleeping bag in the morning when you wake up, that’s something I couldn’t even fathom," said Salvation Army Lt. Colin Pederson.
Pederson has worked for the Salvation Army for a decade but arrived in Billings a little over three years ago. And he noticed one problem immediately.
"When I got here and saw people living on the streets in a climate that gets very cold," Pederson said, "I said, this is something we have to do to try to improve our neighborhood."
His dream is almost a reality. The Salvation Army will break ground next spring on the William Booth tiny home village in a lot they own across Sixth Avenue North from North Park. They’ll start with seven individual cabins and a community center, with the plan to build 21 more cabins after that.
"We have a lack of affordable housing," said MarCee Neary. "This can really take the burden off of the entire community."
Neary has been the director of the Billings Crisis Center since it opened 16 years ago and said Billings is a very different place since then.
"There were people forced into homelessness that were hanging on by a thread prior to the pandemic," she said, "and now are trying to get on their feet. I’m so excited about what we’re going to be able to do."
The village will have two programs: a free-of-charge, 90-day version to help those who just need a few months to get back on their feet, and a longer two-year stay that will focus on those with disabilities.
“We’ll have a sliding scale fee, so they can contribute to the operation of the village in the long term," Pederson said.
Each home costs about $25,000 to build, with a yearly $335,000 operating budget after completion. It’ll be Montana’s second major tiny home village - one opened in Bozeman last year on the heels of a massive cost-of-living rise. Neary said she’s already seeing opposition, but has a response.
"I keep hearing 'Not in Our Town,' but they’re here anyway," she said. "They are part of our fabric and are wonderful people and deserve a chance."
"The villages not only transition people off the streets, but they improve the community," Pederson added. "They add more eyes around, more presence throughout the day.
"We want to make this North Park area a beautiful neighborhood, a safe neighborhood, a place where people are proud to live."
And call home.