Helena shelter residents aim to ‘change public perception’ with city block clean-up

Clients of Our Place, the Good Samaritan Ministries-run addiction recovery drop-in center, spent much of Tuesday morning cleaning up the block in an effort to change public perception.

Good Samaritan Ministries and United Way of the Lewis and Clark Area were granted a conditional use permit by the Helena City Commission Monday night, allowing them to open a 25-bed emergency shelter for women at 649 Jackson St.

The commission heard hours of public comment ahead of the vote, some of which was in opposition to the proposed shelter. Those opposed cited littering and vandalism among their concerns.

“We are working very hard to humanize our unsheltered neighbors and get the message across that these people are not all criminals,” local United Way Director of Community Impact Jeff Buscher said Tuesday morning.

He said some of the Our Place clients came up with the idea of cleaning up the block during a group meeting.

“We’re giving them the tools to do what they want to do and that is clean up the neighborhood,” he said.

“We have to show them that we want to be good neighbors, but they have to understand that the status quo isn’t working,” CJ said while sweeping dirt off a Last Chance Gulch sidewalk ramp.

Rachell, another Our Place client, said her participation in the clean up helps her out. Rachell said she has been diagnosed with growing calcifications in her brain. She called them “brain stones” and said they have manifested obsessive compulsive tendencies in her.

“It’s nice to have my feet on the ground,” she said.

She said she has noticed many of the unsheltered in Helena do have mental health problems like her.

“They’re not trying to be disrespectful,” she said. “They are unable to make the right choices.”

Buscher said he hopes the clean-up will become a regular occurrence, but that it will take some encouragement.

Helena not immune from homelessness, urban camping concerns

After a homeless encampment was dismantled in November, tents and makeshift camps continue to pop up in the city, highlighting the need for additional emergency shelters.
A small camp made up of tarps sits in the back corner of Constitution Park in downtown Helena on Nov. 30, 2023. 

In early November, deputies with the Lewis and Clark County Sheriff’s Office cleared out a homeless encampment a few miles south of downtown Helena, displacing those who called the camp their home.

The encampment — first on private property before it was moved to U.S. National Forest land — sprung up earlier this summer, and about 25 people lived there, according to coverage by KTVH.Now that the campsite has been removed, some of those unsheltered individuals moved into city limits where they could utilize the nonprofit resources and shelters, while others left the area.

Since then, new camps made up of tents and tarps have popped up within the city parks, on sidewalks and in alleyways, sparking community concerns about public safety while also highlighting the growing unsheltered crisis.

“There is not a spot within city limits that our community has opened up access for unsheltered to camp, [which] makes it very complicated,” Mark Nay, the street outreach coordinator for Good Samaritan Ministries, told Montana Free Press. “Folks that are living on the streets, you know, living in their cars, living in campers. What happens is they’ll kind of get themselves set up in a spot, and it really does go against what our city code is.”

So what is Helena’s stance on homeless encampments and urban camping?

Staying overnight is prohibited in any public or natural park within the city limits without permission from the city’s parks and recreation department, according to the Helena city code.

Although the code states that it’s unlawful to camp or sleep overnight in these areas, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled in 2018 that local law enforcement can not cite or arrest campers if there is not adequate shelter available for the homeless. That decision is affecting how many cities throughout the West, including some in Montana, approach expanding homelessness.

Mark Nay, the street outreach coordinator for Good Samaritan Ministries in Helena, sits in his office at Our Place, a resource program for unsheltered individuals on Nov. 29, 2023.

According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development with the help of United Way of Lewis and Clark, about 175 unsheltered people are living in the county. Helena does have multiple programs and nonprofits that handle transitional housing, Nay said, but only one emergency shelter without enough beds to go around.

Helena Police Chief Brett Petty told MTFP that officers address complaints about homeless people from the community on a case-by-case basis. One of the most frequent complaints, though, is about people camping in city parks. A goal of his department, Petty said, is to make sure that the parks are usable and safe for everyone in Helena.

“I think the main thing here is being unsheltered, being homeless, being considered transient is not illegal,” Petty said. “Just because you don’t have a house doesn’t mean you’re a criminal, and that’s the way we treat it. Now if you’re camping in the park, there’s an ordinance saying that you can’t, but we have to work with those folks because they don’t have other places to go.”

Petty also shared that the police department works closely with Nay at Good Samaritan Ministries to find homeless individuals temporary shelters and help them utilize resources from local nonprofits.

Helena has multiple resources for individuals and families who don’t have a secure home and are experiencing homelessness.

“I think the main thing here is being unsheltered, being homeless, being considered transient is not illegal.”


God’s Love is the city’s only emergency shelter that is available to any individual who requires services, although it excludes individuals who become violent within the shelter.

“We have one rule: It doesn’t matter if you’re drinking, using drugs, it doesn’t matter what your story is, the second you hit a staff member you’re gone, no questions asked,” said Rachel Sanders, the office manager at God’s Love.

Those people camping around the shelter are individuals who have been kicked out, some of whom have mental health and addiction issues, Sanders said. God’s Love is at the corner of North Last Chance Gulch and 11th Avenue, and there are a few tents and personal belongings propped up on the north side of the building.

Helena City Manager Tim Burton said Helena is addressing the call for unsheltered assistance by working with the local nonprofits that provide services.

“So we stay in close communication with them, and where there’s opportunity for us to move things along or leverage state or federal grant dollars, those types of activities to help them provide the critical services,” Burton said.

There is an effort led by Good Samaritan Ministries to obtain a permit and funding through the city that would allow for an emergency women’s shelter. The city zoning commission will meet on Wednesday, Dec. 6, to consider the permit for the shelter project.

Burton said he hasn’t had time to analyze the efforts of officials in Bozeman and Missoula to curtail urban camping in those cities. Bozeman has adopted an urban camping ordinance, and Missoula is considering a similar response.

“What I do know is that it’s a national problem, and part of that national problem is in Helena, Montana,” Burton said. “I can speak to the issue that we’re effectively coordinating on a daily, weekly, as-needed basis with the experts that actually provide this service. I can’t say enough about the nonprofit organizations that, I mean, these folks do wonderful work. There’s not a single person in the city staff that has the expertise to run a shelter. It’s just not what we do. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t help the organizations that do provide that service where we can.”

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OPEN POSITION: Production Assistant: Dock Posting 

Job Title: Production Assistant: Dock Posting
Hours: 40/wk
Supervisor: Michelle Hughes
Posting Created By: Samantha Jensen

Good Samaritan Ministries, motivated by faith-based teaching, works in our community to advance family life, human dignity, and the common good. We provide services to meet the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs of individuals and families of all faiths, especially those most in need. Good Samaritan Thrift Store acts as an integral part of Good Samaritan Ministries mission to offer the programs and services to advance human dignity, respect, and support.


The Dock Production Assistant is responsible for accepting incoming donations as well as sorting and preparing donations for store sales and under very stressful conditions.


Essential Functions: Duties and Responsibilities including but not limited to the following

· Works on dock accepting incoming donation items and sorts according to the various departments.

· Works on dock refusing incoming donation items that are ripped, stained, torn, or broken.

· Moves lift furniture items, and assists customers with loading purchased merchandise

· Responsible for keeping the dock warehouse clean, orderly, and safe during the scheduled shifts.

· Provides customers with donation receipts

· Responsible for ensuring a safe sales floor environment for co-workers and customers

· Informs supervisor about any repairs or supplies needed

· Adheres to all building safety requirements, as well as follows procedure when an incident, accident or injury has occurred.

· Adheres to all store lifting policies and weight restrictions

· In the event, a co-worker is out, potentially be willing to cover for the dock area

· Greets and assists customers, clients, and donors, treating all with respect and dignity

· Maintains floors, sweeping, washing on the dock area

· Breaks down cardboard boxes for recycling

· Interacts and communicates professionally and effectively while maintaining open communication with supervisors, other team members, customers, and clients.

· Learns New Tasks

· Follows Directions and Policies

· Attends all meetings and trainings as required

· Other duties as assigned

· Frequent Lifting, carrying and transporting of objects weighing up to 125lbs or above.

· Mobility within the facility and the ability to occasionally drive, load, and unload the delivery truck

Benefits: Full Medical, Dental, Vision, Health Savings Account and 401 (k)!

Extended Our Place Hours

To keep more people out of the cold, we are extending hours at Our Place drop in center from Monday through Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm. Our place is a community center that provides peer recovery services, community groups, crisis mitigation, and housing assistance. It is a safe place for community members to have a cup of coffee, use the computers, and/or grab a donated blanket or coat.

Dock Closure


Greetings customers, donors, and others, please be advised our dock is closed until further notice due to being short-staffed and the need to catch up on our existing donations and maintain staff and volunteer safety. Your donations are greatly appreciated for GSM thrift store operations, our employees, and the most in need in our community. We are truly sorry for any inconvenience this has caused.

We are still accepting furniture donations!  Please come to the front entrance of Good Samaritan thrift store to give your gently used furniture today!

Thank you for your amazing generosity and continued support of our Thrift Store! The store is open regular hours.

Rough Sleepers: A Community Conversation about the Unsheltered in Helena

Rough Sleepers: A Community Conversation about the Unsheltered in Helena

Plymouth Church – UCC, in partnership with the Lewis and Clark Library, United Way, the Montana Jewish Project, Good Samaritan and the Helena United Methodist Churches, invite the public to participate in the reading and five-week discussion of “Rough Sleepers” by Pulitzer-prize winning author, Tracy Kidder. The origins of housing shortages, education, medical care, and substance abuse are a few of the topics that will be featured each week and explored by leaders in our community, from Wednesday August 30 through Wednesday September 27. All discussions will be held at 12 noon; sack lunches encouraged. The Lewis and Clark Library hosts the first gathering in the meeting room, though each week the discussion will move to other locations. No reservations required; all are invited whether or not you have read the book.


August 30 at Lewis and Clark County Library, 120 S. Last Chance Gulch

“Why Now? Historical Origins of the Housing Crisis”, (discussion about why homelessness seems like a national crisis now) facilitated by Dr. Pat Christian, Carroll College


September 6 at Our Place, 631 N. Last Chance Gulch

“Who Is My Neighbor?” (Stories of people who are homeless), facilitated by Theresa Ortega, Good Samaritan, and Rev. Dr. Jeff Buscher, United Way


September 13 at the Montana Jewish Project Temple Emanu-El, 515 N. Ewing

“What’s Education Got to Do with It?” (Information from an educator, social

worker and a parent interacting with unsheltered children and adults),

participants include Siobhan Hathhorn, Chair of the Helena School Board

Trustees, Jaymie Sheldahl, Family and Community Partnerships for Rocky

Mountain Development Council Head Start with Jennifer Hedges


September 20 at Covenant United Methodist Church, 2330 E. Broadway

“Practical Considerations and Overwhelming Needs” (a perspective from local government regarding low-income housing and the challenges the city and county face) facilitated County Commissioner Andy Hunthausen and Mayor Wilmot Collins


September 27 at Plymouth Church – UCC, 400 S. Oakes (lunch provided)

“What About Drugs, Addictions, Mental Health and Other Life Threatening Concerns on the Streets”, facilitated by Teresa KelleyBrewer, Pure View Clinic

Looking for an Opportunity to Make a Difference?

Come join the good samaritan family!

Good samaritan ministries is seeking volunteers and hiring for the following positions!

Full-time administrative assistant!
Full-time marketing and communication coordinator!
Full-time dock production!
Full-time dock production and driver!
Full-time and part-time cashier’s!
Part-time linen production assistant!
Full-time lead dock production assistant!

Samantha Jensen
Human Resources Manager
(406) 442-0780 ext. 101
[email protected]

Our Place – A Good Samaritan Outreach Program – Grant Application 2024

Grant Application 2024

Parish/Organization Name: Our Place – A Good Samaritan Outreach Program

Address: 631 N. Last Chance Gulch Phone: 4063890223

Pastor/Chief Officer Name and Title: Theresa Ortega

PROJECT CONTACT PERSON Name and Title: Alton Talley – Program Coordinator

PROJECT CONTACT PERSON Phone Number: 4063890223

PROJECT CONTACT PERSON Email: [email protected]

Total Proposed Project Budget: ($2,000 for food cards, $2,300 temporary emergency shelter, $700 curriculum

Amount Requested: $5,000.00

Funds Raised for Project to Date: At the time of writing we have not raised funds as we are still working on donations from previously.   However, we are starting our new fiscal year and have plans for fundraisers and online drives to complement the grant from the Foundation for the Diocese of Helena.  We are currently in the planning stages of the budget for the new fiscal year, so please note that during this time last year we raised over $5,000 in additional funds. In-Kind Support Obtained or Committed for Project: Through other grants and the

Assistance Ministry at Good Samaritan we will receive financial support for client needs that will allow them to participate in regular programming as well in-kind staffing and in-store assistance. Duration of Project or Program: December 2023 to May 2024

Project Description: To assist person’s suffering from domestic violence, homelessness, substance use disorders and mental illness to acquire food assistance, provide temporary emergency shelter, for those that are not able to attend our community shelter, who attend our day programming, and assist those in need of transportation and food, during the winter months.

NARRATIVE: The goal here at Our Place is to use our groups to prepare and help individuals who struggle with various forms of addiction and mental illness. We provide an Art Group, Life Skills, Social Skills Group, Goal and Journaling Group, two groups to assist people on the journey to spiritual well-being, and 4 groups centered around recovery from addiction.  Over time the groups have grown from 3-4 participants to now we see an average of 10-16 participants.  The participants in large part are from the homeless population, but we also get veterans and 55+ participants.  Our groups dealing with spirituality are the newest additions as clients who have been coming for some time and have started their walk-in recovery have asked for groups that are also based in spirituality.  Many of the clients that now claim sobriety have said it is directly related to what we have been teaching and promoting here at Our Place.

Description of the project, including why the project is needed, what your expected outcomes are and your strategy for evaluating the success of the project: With the growing homeless population and the apparent increase in drug and alcohol addictions, Our Place strives to assist and educate clients on the importance of recovery, giving them hope that recovery is possible.  Our recovery groups center on helping clients heal mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually for the most in need in our community.

Meanwhile we also provide resources to assist clients get the hand-up they so desperately need.  The purpose of the request  will work in tandem with the Assistance Ministry of Good Samaritan to provide temporary emergency shelter for men or women who are unable to go to the local shelter, are fleeing a dangerous situation, are of an advanced age, have mental health challenges, escaping addiction or have a short-term medical need, Getting them into a temporary shelter will grant staff and clients the time needed to arrange for long-term sustainable shelter away from the dangers of the streets or for those with the medical need allow us to provide a referral with a warm hand off to St. Peter’s FUSE program. .

Through the funds requested for food cards, it will allow our program to assist clients supplement grocery items needed that they are unable to obtain through the pantry program at Good Samaritan Ministries, food share, God’s Love, or the exorbitant price of day to day groceries The food card program will also allow those, who for one reason or another, who are unable to eat at the local shelter, to purchase food items at a local business, to prevent malnutrition due to a lack of sustenance.

Each of these programs will be monitored for success in the following manner: For those fleeing the dangers of the street, after a night or two in a temporary emergency shelter will be able to either relocate successfully elsewhere or enter one of the various programs in Helena that shelter and assist those in traumatic situations.  For those who receive food cards, the hope will be to acquire nourishment, while seeking gainful employment, (an issue that is difficult to do when your first priority is where to acquire food).  This program’s success will be seen and evaluated by witnessing a decrease in those going hungry and an improvement in general health.

The third request will allow Our Place to purchase NIV Bibles and Celebrate Recovery Bibles to assist those who are interested in reviewing and studying scripture and Christian teachings to learn, heal and grow in their spiritual walk. Due to the very personal nature of this request our hope will be that the success will be seen in those seeking a referral to a local church or parish.

Description of organization, the population and community served, and any unique challenges in your service area:

“Our Place is a safe physical space for men and women to create new beginnings.  Our Place is a peer-run support program specializing in behavioral challenges and those recovering from addiction.” Further we strive to assist those who are experiencing homelessness to receive a hand-up, rather than a hand-out, to achieve personal success in bettering their lives.  The population and community we serve struggle with escaping situations of homelessness, hunger, addictions to include alcohol and drugs, as well as mental health issues. With the current lack of affordable housing and limited space at the local shelter, many of our clients have nowhere to go, and for those in the midst of a dangerous or violent situation,  temporary emergency shelter is needed until other avenues of placement and protection can be arranged.  For many clients who suffer from homelessness one of the first priorities is seeking a means to receive nourishment, because all other issues become a second priority in the face of hunger.  By providing food cards to these clients, it grants them temporary assistance for nourishment while they seek and await gainful employment.  During the winter months, there are those who at times cannot go to the local shelter for various reasons, providing them with food cards can grant them a reprieve from hunger or malnutrition.  Our Place strives to provide as much assistance to individuals as we can through various grant programs and donations received.  We also act as a referral source, partner with case managers for dual support of clients, provide education, while providing recovery groups and assistance to treatment.  Our Place is part of the Good Samaritan Ministries outreach team.


Food Cards:      $2,000.00

5 x $100.00 =   $500.00

20 x $50.00 =   $1,000.00                 20 x $25.00 =   $500.00

Temporary Emergency Shelter Assistance: $2,300.00

Will provide approximately 23 nights in a hotel at $100.00 per night, if able to acquire lower priced shelter additional nights will be available to assist clients.

Spiritual/Christian Curriculum: $700.00

NIV Bible with red lettering:   20ea x $18.00 = $360.00

Celebrate Recovery Study Bible: 20ea x $17.00 = $340.00

All cards and vouchers will be monitored and approved by the Program Coordinator

Signature – Pastor/Administrator and/or authorized officer: Alton Talley, Jr. CBHPSS – Our Place Program Coordinator

Date: 06/23/23

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