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New Homeless Shelter Will Keep Families Together

Published by Teresa Garcia on Friday, January 1, 2016

Journal cover January 2016   Download PDF

Christina Bucio arrived at the Great Falls Rescue Mission Women and Children’s shelter in Great Falls, Mont., looking for a temporary place where she and her young family could stay. She was disappointed to learn that she would have to separate from her five children until more space became available. “When I first got there, all the family areas were filled up; there was no room for me to bring my kids in,” said Bucio. There was only enough bed space for Bucio, so her children had to stay with relatives. It wasn’t until two months later that a family room became vacant and Bucio could reunite her family under one roof.

Dozens of families seeking temporary housing face the same anguish of separation because of the shelter’s limited space, said Carrie Sunwall, Great Falls Rescue Mission’s development director and capital campaign coordinator. “That’s what breaks our heart,” said Sunwall. “We cannot keep doing what we’re doing without looking at expansion and meeting those needs.”

Great Falls Rescue Mission started as a men’s homeless shelter in 1963. A women-and-families shelter opened years later across the street, but neither facility could accommodate families together. Because the Rescue Mission serves 17 counties across Montana, both of its buildings are regularly filled to capacity and the organization has to turn away an average of 26 families every month.

Fortunately, more families will be able to stay together when new markets tax credit (NMTC) financing helps Great Falls Rescue Mission open its new Cameron Family Center this summer that will feature 26 private family rooms. Cameron Family Center will also offer dormitory-style bed spaces for families planning to stay only a few weeks. The new family center will house five rooms for general health care, dental, vision and chiropractic services. Sunwall said the goal is to address residents’ immediate health concerns on-site until they can find their own health care providers. Additionally, Cameron Family Center will offer coordinated social services and year-round youth programs for children staying at the shelter and for those in the surrounding community.

Families in the private rooms will likely stay between a year and 18 months, the length of the mission’s recovery program that is designed to help residents overcome addictions varying from substance abuse to gambling. “Our goal is meeting not just basic needs, but also meeting their spiritual, emotional, physical needs so that when folks find a place to move into, it becomes their permanent home and they become contributing members of society,” said Sunwall.


Funding partners saw the NMTC program as a tool to help Great Falls Rescue Mission accomplish its goal of better accommodating families who experience homelessness. “It’s really tough on families and kids to get separated,” said Heidi Dearment, CFO of Montana Community Development Corporation (Montana CDC), which provided a $10.5 million NMTC allocation, including a $7 million leverage loan. “They’re already in a stressful situation and now they have to be apart. [Cameron Family Center] will give them the ability to stay together and work toward a more permanent housing situation.”

U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation (USBCDC) became involved with the project when it sponsored Great Falls Rescue Mission’s application for the Affordable Housing Program (AHP), through which the mission received a $1.5 million grant. After Montana CDC brought NMTC allocation to the project, USBCDC provided $3.5 million of equity. “New markets tax credits were critical,” said Maria Bustria-Glickman, a vice president of USBCDC. “[Great Falls Rescue Mission] will be able to build out the facility in a more timely fashion than they could build on just a capital campaign timeline.”

Great Falls Rescue Mission has received capital campaign pledges of $5.3 million, as of October 2015, and hopes to raise another $1.6 million. In addition to funding construction of the new facility, donations will help fund staffing and services.

Changing Lives

Great Falls Rescue Mission supporters expect the expansion will help more families find the independence and stability that Bucio has achieved after her family’s stay with the mission. Within five months of moving into Great Falls Rescue Mission, Bucio found a new job and was able to move out to a permanent home with her family. Six years later, her two eldest daughters have graduated high school and are now employed (one of them at Great Falls Rescue Mission’s thrift store), two of her younger children volunteer at the mission’s youth summer camps and her youngest child participates in the youth programs. “The rescue mission helped me get my place–they advocated for me and help me set goals,” said Bucio. “They helped me through each step and they considered my feelings and my family.” She sees the new Cameron Family Center as an important extension of the mission’s work in helping other families get on their feet.

Sunwall agreed, “What we hope to see is families are reunited and reconciled. That’s just something you can’t describe, when you see lives changed.”

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