NewsGreat Falls News


Church removes homeless camp; options presented at City Commission meeting

Gary Owen, president of United Way of Cascade County
Posted at 6:49 PM, Aug 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-04 11:28:25-04

GREAT FALLS — The Great Falls City Commission meeting on Tuesday, August 2, 2022, provided the community with an update on the First United Methodist Church and the disassembling of the homeless encampment.

The encampment was located on church property at 610 2nd Avenue North. It had been on the church’s property since the winter of 2021 when Pastor Jeff Wakely noticed homeless people struggling with the cold weather.

Attempting to lend a helping hand, the pastor let the homeless stay on the property and began the encampment in the parking lot despite violating zoning codes.

First United Methodist Church "homeless outreach ministry"
First United Methodist Church "homeless outreach ministry" (July 2022)

After a lawsuit was filed against the church, the community had questions about what the city did during the time the encampment was formed, where the homeless population will go now, and what kinds of resources are available.

Some nonprofit partners got together at the meeting to talk about available resources.

Gary Owen, president of United Way of Cascade County, said, “The local continuum of care is simply a community initiative of concerned organizations and citizens that work to address homelessness to make it rare, brief, and nonrecurring.” Their goal is to work towards finding the homeless population permanent housing.

Gary Owen, president of United Way of Cascade County
Gary Owen, president of United Way of Cascade County

He also commented that many of those staying at the encampment can be considered chronically homeless, meaning they cannot be expected to maintain the housing they would be placed in. Even then, some may struggle finding a place to go.

“There is not enough housing in this community,” said Deb Kottel, executive director at Saint Vincent De Paul. “There is a definite shortage of where you can place an individual in terms of their income ability.”

Until transitionary or permanent housing can be found, Kottel noted where some of the homeless from the encampment had moved to.

“When we looked at the homeless that were moved, a portion of the homeless went back to reservation communities. Some of the homeless in that church group were sheltered, but a good third of the homeless are back on the streets.”

Following this information, Karla Seaman and Gina Black, both employees at Opportunities Inc., looked at outcomes of the overall homeless population in Great Falls.

They provided a list of resources available for those in need of assistance, including:

  • TANF
  • Medicaid
  • Opportunities Inc.
  • Youth Employment Office
  • Section 8
  • Opportunities Inc. Community Resource Center
  • Sober Life
  • Family Promise
  • Food Banks
  • St. Vincent
  • Emily Center

First United Methodist Church is looking for a way to work with the city in order to best accommodate both the homeless population and the rest of the community.

The church did abide by the request of the city, and the homeless encampment has since been dismantled.