Waiting for Some Doors to Open
Kevin Foster says it started last month, when he pulled over at a Wyoming rest stop, on his way
from Texas to Butte, where he was coming to be closer to his 11- and 12-year- old sons.
[KF: :21-:30 reasons for coming to Butte: friendly people / low cost of living / “People here are
But on his way to the Richest Hill on Earth, things took a difficult turn for Foster.
[KF::50-1:10 quote about waking up at 3 am with guns on him / hid $100 in his shoe and “that’s
how I had the gas to get here” ]
When he arrived, Foster went to a gas station.
[KF: 1:20-1:25 Asked where the local shelter was “And they said there wasn’t one. It’s been
The people Foster ran into were right: Butte’s only homeless shelter, the Butte Rescue Mission,
has been closed since April, after more than four decades serving those in need from a house on
East Second Street.
The immediate cause of the shelter’s closure was fire code violations, but the shelter’s problems
were longstanding and varied—and those in charge had been seeking a new home for years.
But when the Rescue Mission was unexpectedly forced to shut its doors this spring, Butte was
left without a place for those without shelter to take refuge.
While Rocky Lyons, the Mission’s director, notes that some of Butte’s homeless “have moved
on” since the shelter closed, Lyons says that doesn’t mean Butte’s homeless population has
[RL: 2:10-2:18: “Something Butte needs to realize is we get new people in every day.”’]
And those people have to do their best to survive without a shelter.
[RL: 2:43- 3:06: people living out of vehicles, if they’re lucky]
Kevin Foster is one of those people.
He’s been sleeping in his car since the 2nd of August. Since that time, Foster says he been looking for work.
[KF: 1:44-1:54: talks about looking for work and needing to do laundry “And that’s when they
Though the Butte Rescue Mission is without a shelter, Lyons and others from the Mission are
still working hard to do what they can for Butte’s homeless.
Operating out of the Mission’s thrift store on Park Street in Uptown, the Mission does what it
can. In addition to offering washer and dryer services so people like Kevin Foster can do their
laundry, the Mission provides shower vouchers to the YMCA, runs a community bread room out
of the thrift store, distributes other foods when they are able, and provides clothing and sleeping
bags to those in need.
But this is far less than what the Mission was offering.
When the Mission lost its shelter, it also lost its kitchen and the ability to provide three meals a
day to Butte’s homeless.
In 2016, Lyons says, the Mission served some 41,000 meals.
The loss of those service has been felt no only within Butte’s homeless population, but in the
community at large. For example, some local stores have seen an increase in shoplifting, because of the lack of free meals, Lyons says.
Since being notified in February that they would have to vacate their Second Street location,
Lyons has searched high and low for a new location. But despite identifying a number of
possible new sites for a shelter, they have been stymied at every turn.
Asked why the Mission itself still remain homeless, Lyons says the practical reasons have to do
with the city’s requirements that the mission move to land zoned C3 for commercial use, that a
public meeting be held, and that a zoning variance be granted.
[RL: 5:30-5:49]: “It’s very in-depth process” / “But the bigger problem is …” ]
The Rescue Mission has pursued a variety of locations, including everywhere from a former
shelter located in Uptown to the Copper King Hotel near Bert Mooney airport to the vacant
Madison School to land near the Butte YMCA.
In its most recent effort to secure housing, the Mission purchased portable housing units from
North Dakota that could accommodate up to 56 clients, with additional capacity during
emergency weather conditions.
But without land, the Mission hasn’t been able to move those units to Butte—and Lyons says she
has even considered giving up on the costly proposition of moving them.
[RL: 6:27-7:01: “Every time that we get ready to move on a piece of property, it just seems that
the community rises up against us…. It’s very hard to understand and to know where we need to
Difficulties in determining where and how to help Butte’s homeless has vexed more than just
Rocky Lyons and the Butte Rescue Mission.
Revonda Stordahl serves as executive director of Public Housing Authority and co-chairs the
Butte Continuum of Care Coalition, a coalition of some 20 agencies that takes a holistic and non-
faith-based approach to dealing with homelessness in Butte—and that has the ultimate goal of
eventually eradicating homelessness in town.
To achieve that lofty goal, the agencies that participate in the Continuum of Care Coalition offer
assistance finding work, accessing health care, and finding housing, among other services.
The Rescue Mission has been somewhat involved in the work of the Continuum of Care
Coalition—but only intermittently, Stordahl says.
And according to Stordahl, the coalition has pursued its own efforts to deal with the local need
for an emergency shelter.
[RS: 2:34-2:56: Need for shelter and not interested in telling the Mission what to do but “We
would like to see it fit in with our model of how we’re trying to deal with homelessness.”]
The model the Continuum of Care Coalition envisions is somewhat different than the Rescue
[RS: 1:42-2:03 : “We all agree that there is a need for an emergency shelter. What that looks
like, who knows.”]
One model Stordahl suggests might work in Butte can be found in Bozeman, where a warming
shelter that’s open only during the winter months operates.
Another model would involve sprinkling tiny houses around town and using them to provide
temporary housing for the homeless.
But those models come with their own issues.
[RS: 3:55-4:01: The problem is, where’s the money gonna come from and who’s gonna run it?]
While acknowledging that the need for a shelter is real, Stordahl says the Coalition’s preferred
approach is what she calls diversion or rapid re-housing.
That might mean giving someone a bus pass to go live with family members elsewhere. It may
also involve helping a potentially homeless person pay their rent or helping them find subsidized
The Coalition also seeks to provide case management to help people deal with their underlying
issues. But before doing so, the Coalition aims to provide housing first—and then provide other
[RS: 8:35-8:47: research says this is best]
While a shelter would play a vital role in helping Butte’s homeless, Stordahl says the emphasis
should be on housing.
[RS: 13:11-13:32: “You should want to get them out of the shelter as soon as you can.”
While Stordahl and Lyons agree that helping the homeless is about more than providing a home,
Lyons says the Mission, as a faith-based organization, takes a somewhat different approach than
[RL: 12:25-13:50] holistically dealing with people / “a roof over there head isn’t going to
change the problem”
Lyons acknowledges that the shelter has been insufficiently strict about its alcohol and drug
policy in the past and that there were problems at the Second Street location over its 41-year
history, but she says that during her three years at the Mission, they have emphasized the holistic
rehabilitation of clients, requiring them to spend 30 hours a week bettering their lifestyles.
And Lyons says the Mission helps not only Butte’s homeless but also the community at large.
[RL: 14:44-15:09: “We are a part of this community”]
Lyons says she has difficulty understanding why Butte hasn’t welcomed the shelter more
[RL: 4:04- : “I can’t understand why there isn’t a great outpouring of compassions” to “We have
very little to offer right now”]
And she’s worried that if something doesn’t change soon, the situation will become dire.
[RL: [3:23]: “We’re running of time” / weather’s gonna start changing ]
Lyons says the Mission will continue to pursue a location—but if the shelter can’t find a new
home here, she says her organization may have to look elsewhere in the seven-county area it
[RL: 11:01-11:11: may have to pull out of Butte]
But that would be a last resort.
Stordahl says the Continuum of Care Coalition is also aware of the urgency of finding even a
temporary solution before the cold comes.
[RS: 4:04-4:26: Possibility of motel vouchers]
But those are temporary options—and Lyons says it’s vital for the Mission to find a new home.
[RL: 18:21-19:20: “I can’t tell people enough how much the face of homelessness has changed
…” to “moms with children / single dads with babies” … “We’re all living paycheck to
paycheck, and we can all be there at any moment.”]
The face of homelessness, she says, is people like Kevin Foster, a former car salesman, who
Lyons has helped get back on his feet, even giving him a part-time job as the Mission’s
development coordinator—a position that involves helping with fundraising, grant writing, and
otherwise trying to help get move the Mission forward.
Asked whether he thinks the shelter will find a new home, Foster says he doesn’t know.
[KF: 4:00-4:05: “I pray every day that Butte will get a mission back.”]
Lyons says she’s working hard to make that prayer a reality
[RL: 19:30-19:50 :“We have not quit working since the fire department landed on my door …
We have such a larger vision for the mission.”]