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Families have trouble paying for housing



Billings, Montana – Few people would have anticipated finding themselves homeless, but Timothy Olsen and his three children did after getting divorced and returning to his native Montana.

“I made the decision to return back home, but Montana has changed a lot in just a short amount of time,” Olsen said.

He managed to land a job, but he was still unable to secure housing. He was unable to pay for it.

“Places that I would be able to rent are now like four times what they were, so I’m trying to take care of three kids, trying to work two jobs, trying to juggle everything. A lot of things are falling through the cracks and it gets to the point where I am staying at a cheap motel barely getting by from week to week,” Olsen said.

It’s a situation that many of Billings’ homeless people are in.

“Family homelessness is the biggest growing demographic nationally and here as well,” said Felicia Burg, the development coordinator for Family Promise of Yellowstone Valley, an organization that partners with dozens of local churches and businesses to provide a community response to homelessness.

Olsen was able to obtain much-needed assistance and support there. According to Burg, the biggest challenge facing the families they serve is finding affordable homes.

“The rental pool in general had decreased in the last couple of years due to the housing market. A lot of landlords who had been renting saw an opportunity to sell and make some good money, and those families that are renting then had 30 days to find someplace to go and there just weren’t any options for those families. So all of a sudden they are faced with homelessness and they never thought they would,” said Burg.

According to Burg, the majority of the families with young children who entered the emergency shelter last year were all employed full-time, like Olsen.

Burg is aware of the difficulties many of these families experience personally. She once lived on the streets.

“The stereotype says that homeless people are either strung out on drugs and alcohol and they have just lost all sense of responsibility or that they are lazy, just get a job, save first month’s rent and deposit and there you go and you won’t be homeless anymore. And the fact is that these people are working hard, they just can’t afford a place to live,” she said.

“There’s plenty of people that are barely getting by and they are absolutely working hard. And there are plenty of people who were getting by and then something went bad and now they are trying to fill out of the cracks and pull themselves out of that hole,” said Olsen.

After an arduous journey, things are finally starting to look bright for him. He currently lives with his family in temporary accommodation, but he will soon have the chance to move into a low-income permanent home.

“Family promise has given me the support to kind of pull myself back up and be the best self that I can and kind of get my feet underneath me so to speak. I couldn’t have done it without them,” Olsen said.


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