By Tim Eberly
Helping hands emerge from all directions to ensure that no one in Havre whether they're just passing through or permanent residents goes without a roof over their head in the dead of winter.
Havre does not have a facility to house the homeless, transients, or intoxicated late-night wanderers with no place to stay. But a combination of charitable organizations in town, along with a few for-profit businesses, have patched together an informal system for taking care of those in need.
If a Havre police officer finds a person in the middle of the night, attempting to ward off frostbite or death, the officer first tries to find out if the individual has a home.
"Normally, we just try to get them to a warm place or warm setting," police Capt. Mike Barthel said. "A lot of times, they want to go to jail, just for the warm meal and room. But they haven't committed a crime, so we can't legally incarcerate them."
Recently, very few people the police encounter in the middle of the night are from out-of-town. They often have a friend or family member in town with whom they can stay.
"We've had great success in finding placement for a person who is heavily intoxicated (or a transient)," Barthel said. "The community has been very supportive. Many times, an officer is able to find placement for somebody that has not broken the law."
For the "one or two" transients or homeless people the police encounter each winter, according to Barthel, several options exist. One is allowing the individual to sleep in the lobby of the police station. The other, less-preferred option is the Hill County Detention Center.
"I've had cases where they haven't broken the law but they demanded that we take them to jail," Barthel said. "Jail is the last resort. It's a cost to the taxpayers."
If people in need of shelter are found during working hours, they are referred to St. Jude's Catholic Church or the Salvation Army, both of which work closely with the Human Resources Development Council and the Havre Ministerial Association.
They can obtain food at the Feed My Sheep Community Soup Kitchen or the North Havre Community Food Bank. And warm clothing even footwear is available at the Salvation Army or St. Jude's. The Salvation Army, Ministerial Association and St. Jude's also distribute vouchers for gas.
But for shelter, responsibility has been shouldered by St. Jude's and the Salvation Army.
"If they contact us, we check out the situation to make sure it's legitimate," said Ralph Guthrie, an officer with the Salvation Army. "We all kind of network to help all these people out."
Most people searching for temporary shelter are housed at one of three Havre locations: the Budget Inn, The Rail's Inn and the Hi-Line Motel. Donations to both organizations fund their stay.
Owners and managers of the aforementioned businesses "are just super people," Guthrie said. "Any time we call up and need a room, they're right there for us."
On Thursday, the Salvation Army housed a Pennsylvania man in his mid 20s in the Hi-Line Motel. Passing through Havre, the man "literally just showed up at our doorstep," Guthrie said. "He was really out of it."
Each year, the Ministerial Association collects $50 from each of its 10 to 12 members all representatives from local churches and parishes for its Benevolence Fund. Half of the money from that fund is given to St. Jude's, which uses some of it for housing people. The rest of the donations are used for gas vouchers.
Because the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway has tightened its restrictions on transients, far fewer travelers have been making stopovers in Havre. The need to find housing for people has dropped dramatically.
"We haven't seen the transient population lately as we have in years past," Barthel said. "They're really cracking down on them on the rail line."
Last year, Guthrie estimated, the Salvation Army and St. Jude's found temporary housing for 50 to 75 people 20 of them in the winter. It is a much higher statistic than anticipated this winter.
"It's almost come to a halt," Guthrie said. "We've only taken care of a few the whole year."
Due to the inclement weather, winter is the least popular time for the movement of transients and homeless people. "I think it's too cold for them to move around," said Sister Judith Maender of St. Jude's.
In 1999, Steve Flatau, the president of the Ministerial Association and a pastor at the Assembly of God, suggested the community find a place to house transients, homeless people and intoxicated individuals looking for a warm place to sleep. But money and a location have been obstacles to his plan.
"I see that as a big need around here. I really do," Flatau said. "There are people that need a place to stay quite frequently, and when it's 5 degrees out, they can't stay outside."