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Tenants have to leave rooms in Masonic building

For two months, 18-year-old David Gonzales has enjoyed living on his own for the first time, right next door to his therapist at the Center for Mental Health, but that's ending soon.

David Gonzales is one of a half-dozen people, mostly fellow Center clients, who have to leave their homes in the Masonic building at 3rd Avenue and 3rd Street at the order of the Mason's board of directors.

Over the past year, the building supervisor Mike Conley has allowed Center patients to stay in rooms on the third floor of the building for between $100 and $200 per month.

The problem arose when the Havre Fire Department discovered that the building, barely qualifying as a commercial building, was being used as a residence.

Issues that had been concerning previously — failing the inspection since 2006, emergency lights not working, missing outlet covers, and a broken sprinkler system — quickly became much more problematic.

Last week, after a board meeting confirming the eviction, Masonic Board Chair Bill Bilger said that he and his board had no idea that Conley had allowed people to stay in the building.

"He wasn't supposed to do that. He did that on his own," Bilger said. "We're not rated as residential. We're rated as commercial only. It costs way too much to fix the building.

"It's in the thousands of dollars and there's no way we can do that. Our hands are tied. There's nothing we can do."

The board's treasurer Ralph Montgomery said it would cost between $3,000 and $4,000 to fix the sprinkler system. Bilger said that would only cover one of the sprinkler systems valves. And although there is only one valve in that system, there are other things that cost money that the Masons can't afford.

Montgomery said last week that the building has had a rough time over the past few years. He noted the loss of local attorney Carl White, who rented office space in the building, as a major setback for the building. Not only did he pay $1,100 a month in rent, but he would occasionally allow clients to pay off debts with work on the building.

Now the handful of renters, and their nearly $1,000 in monthly rent, have to find other places to go. And some are having trouble.

David is looking to get an apartment in town that costs twice as much as his space in the Masonic building. The only other option he can see is to end up in some kind of group home, for which he'd have to move to Great Falls.

His mother, Gylinda Gonzales, is worried about him. The current situation has been pretty ideal. David has been next door to the counselor he has worked with for the past several years. And having his own place has eased some of the tension that has taken moving back in with his mother off the table. Not enough to put it back on the table.

"It was perfect," Gylinda said. "He was more active. He had more self-esteem. He was keeping it clean."

Part of the fire department's realization came from their recent visits to the building to help Conley in a few recent medical emergencies. He will not be in charge of the building much longer, but who comes next and what that will mean are still up in the air.


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