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YWCA Billings begins construction on new shelter

ywca gateway horizons shelter.png
Courtesy YWCA Billings
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A rendering of YWCA Billings' new Gateway Horizons Shelter.

Since it was built in 1998, YWCA Billings’ Gateway Shelter has been “full almost the entire time since it opened,” says the organization’s CEO, Merry Lee Olson.

Then, she says, COVID-19 hit, and with it, a roughly 40% increase in reported incidents of domestic violence. The pandemic was a “perfect storm” of factors, Olson says: People were forced into isolation at home with their abusers; violent crime and drug use rose.

“We knew that we needed more capacity,” she said.

An unexpected $1 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott provided the funds needed to build a second shelter on the organization’s campus, and meet the growing demand.

Construction began earlier this month on a new 25-unit shelter that will increase YWCA’s capacity by about 300%. In addition to shelter, YWCA also offers housing assistance, job training, legal advocacy and services to help participants transition out of the program and into independent lives.

Olson says she hopes the construction of the new Gateway Horizons Shelter also draws attention to the rising domestic violence in the region.

“It is a crisis, it’s been a crisis, it’s a crisis that’s magnified,” she said. “The awareness of the need for this new shelter I think has increased awareness overall of the crisis at hand and how we’re addressing it, and how we need help addressing it.”

YWCA’s existing shelter is the only 24-hour, year-round shelter in a roughly 18,500-square-mile area, serving primarily women and children from seven counties and three tribal reservations, though some program participants come from even farther away.

Olson says the new shelter should be open before the end of the year.