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Winter cold snaps putting financial pressure on Bozeman shelter

 During the code blue status on Wednesday night the shelter saw 86 guests staying overnight.
During the code blue status on Wednesday night the shelter saw 86 guests staying overnight.

The nonprofit that runs the warming center in Bozeman says operating in cold temperatures has put financial strain on the shelter.

The Human Resource Development Council issued a code blue on Wednesday, which keeps the shelter open 24/7 and allows guests with previous suspensions to stay overnight.

It’s the third cold blue status this winter season — the most in the shelter’s 13-year history.

HRDC associate director Sara Savage says when the shelter extends its hours to keep people from having to stay out in the cold, costs escalate.

“We’re seeing that we need to pay for additional staff to be on site throughout the day, and we’re also seeing the number of guests staying with us increase, so we need more staff,” she said.

Last year the city of Bozeman helped fund the shelter, but that mainly went towards summer operations. Savage says the budget for the shelter’s typical operating season, November to April, is about half a million dollars short.

“Whether that means we need to decrease the number of hours we’re open nightly or shorten our seasons or even potentially close, it’s really about the funding we receive, the support we receive, from the community that makes that determination for us,” she said.

The code blue was in effect until Friday morning.

In Billings the head of the Montana Rescue Mission says they saw a 20 to 30% increase in guests during the past few extremely cold nights compared to other “regular” winter nights, and estimates the mission's three facilities had around 100 individuals Wednesday night.

The city's emergency shelter at First Congregational United Church is seeing the max number of 31 guests each night.

Olivia Weitz covers Bozeman and surrounding communities in Southwest Montana for Yellowstone Public Radio. She has reported for Northwest News Network and Boise State Public Radio and previously worked at a daily print newspaper. She is a graduate of the University of Puget Sound and the Transom Story Workshop.