PREPARING FOR WINTER

HRDC set to open expanded Warming Center
By 
Jason Bacaj
Monday, October 25, 2021
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The HRDC’s Sonja Wheeler, energy and operations director, and Brian Guyer, housing director, pose in the new, unfinished Warming Center on Friday. Enterprise photo by Jason Bacaj

Staff at the Livingston HRDC are sprinting to finish building out its expanded Warming Center ahead of the scheduled opening on Nov. 1.

The new Warming Center is located behind the HRDC offices on 121 S. 2nd St. in downtown Livingston, with an entrance in the alleyway. The former warehouse location can sleep up to 20 people, which is almost double the size of the old location, said Brian Guyer, HRDC housing director.

All that’s left to do is finish building metal bunk beds, hooking up the washer and dryer and a few other final touches, Guyer said.

When it’s all said and done, the Warming Center will have a check-in desk at the alleyway entrance, 20 beds and a partition separating the men and women. Guyer said that families in need of a warm place to stay the night would likely receive hotel or motel vouchers, as congregant housing can present a challenge for children and maintaining a routine.

“The primary goal isn’t for it to be luxurious, obviously. It’s for us to be able to get people out of the cold. We don’t want to be a community that lets our neighbors sleep out in the elements and that’s the bottom line,” Guyer said.

The HRDC is hosting a volunteer day on Saturday, Oct. 30 to finish the build out and Guyer and Sonja Wheeler, Livingston operations manager, invited the public to sign up for the event on the HRDC website. Prospective volunteers have to fill out a volunteer profile to sign up.

This winter season will be the third full season of operation for the Warming Center, Wheeler said. Wheeler has been with the HRDC since November 2019 and said that she’s seen a steady month-over-month increase in people seeking housing during her time. Last year, the local Warming Center hit its 12-person max capacity at least twice, she said.

The HRDC secured the new Warming Center location on South 2nd Street in July, Wheeler said. Since then, the staff moved its offices to the street-facing side and has worked to renovate the former warehouse space in the back, primarily by installing a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, Guyer said.

He and Wheeler said they anticipate a busy winter season, just from gauging the number of people they’ve seen living out of RVs and cars parked on public roadways so far this summer.

“It’s no secret that the cost of housing is escalating pretty rapidly here in Livingston,” Guyer said. “There are going to be people who are in the workforce but just don’t have any place to live right now.”

Several additional services are offered at the HDRC in addition to a warm place to sleep, Guyer said. People can work with housing counselors to find housing or programs that people might qualify for. Plus there are people on hand to help with job applications and other available resources around town, Wheeler added.

The Warming Center is funded by an amalgamation of money from the city of Livingston, private donations and charitable foundations, Guyer said. The Warming Center is open from Nov. 1 through March 31, 2022.

“It’s Montana and we know it’s going to be a hard winter. We need everybody’s help to make sure that our neighbors are safe and warm. And that takes all of us,” Guyer said.