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Dinner is served to a larger than usual crowd at God's Love shelter

Dinner is served to a larger-than-usual crowd at Helena's God's Love homeless shelter Wednesday night as subzero temperatures gripped the Helena Valley.

The number of people staying at God's Love in Helena has tripled as subzero temperatures grip the Helena Valley. 

Dave Miller, who described himself as the "director, owner and toilet bowl plunger," said 60-80 people have been coming to the downtown homeless shelter since Sunday because the weather has been so cold. Miller estimates that around 20 people come into God's Love on an average winter day.

"We have 31 beds full and 28 people sleeping on the floor," Miller said. "We've had up to 36 on the floor."

Miller said the high number of people seeking shelter is "unusual," but can be traced to the closure or sheer lack of homeless shelters in other areas such as Butte and Bozeman. 

Butte has been without a permanent homeless shelter since April 2017, when the mission’s longtime home on East Second Street was closed due to fire code and safety violations. In an October 2018 story in The Montana Standard, Miller said there had been an uptick in people from Butte seeking shelter at God's Love in the prior months.

“We used to not see very many, but now we are," Miller said in an October interview. "Usually we have 10 or 15 staying here in our men’s shelter during the summer, and this year, we had about 25, 26, all the time, out of 31 beds. Although we didn’t reach capacity … we did see the numbers jump way up.”

"The Poverello in Missoula and Great Falls Rescue are there," Miller said, but God's Love is one of the few resources that let people stay inside throughout the day.

Fewer people are willing to brave the streets during the day in Helena because of the constant cold. 

"We've just been watching the 'Price is Right,'" Miller said with a laugh.

Miller said the community has been doing a great job of providing the rescue with food and clothes. He wants to thank Good Samaritan Ministries and Helena Food Share, which have been "wonderful."

Miller mentioned that God's Love could always use more toilet paper, paper towels, laundry soap and blankets.

"We're incredibly blessed," Miller said. "We've been eating like kings and there's no shortage of things; we're just using it all up."

Lt. Cory Bailey of the Helena Police Department said officers are following protocol during the cold snap, which means talking with people on the street who might need to be directed to God's Love or other services.

"It's the normal course of doing business," Bailey said. 

Theresa Ortega, executive director of Good Samaritan Ministries in Helena, said the organization is looking for things like blankets, food cards and telephone cards for people in need.

"Food cards are good," Ortega said. "We clip corners so alcohol and tobacco cannot be bought, just food products."

Good Samaritan works mostly with Van's Thriftway on Lyndale Avenue when providing food cards, according to Ortega. 

The cold has also sent people into Good Samaritan Thrift Store on Montana Avenue.

"We've had many people come in as well," Ortega said.

In addition to God's Love, she said, the Friendship Center, the YWCA and Florence Crittenton can also bring people in to warm up for at least a little while. 

Ted McDermott of The Montana Standard contributed to this story. 

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Reporter

Reporter at the Helena Independent Record.

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