More Links in News & Events

Gazette Opinion: HUB Needs Local Support to Serve Needy

By Pat Bellinghausen

It's 10 till 10 on a chilly May morning. Four middle-aged men dressed in jackets, jeans and baseball caps sit on a low concrete wall outside the long brick building at 515 North 27th Street. They wait for the HUB to open.

Jeffrey Pennington is here six days a week. Several years ago, Pennington was a phlebotomist. Then his mental illness prevented him from working. He became homeless. Now he lives in a cooperative operated by the Mental Health Center in Billings.

Pennington works at the HUB snack bar four hours a day in a transitional employment program. He likes the work and hopes eventually to land a job outside the HUB.

"It gets me out of the house. It gives me some job training," Pennington said.

Short-term grant

Pennington and other HUB clients interviewed said they use and appreciate the HUB's longer hours, an expansion that was made possible through a federal grant obtained by U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns last year.

According to federal regulations, the grant can only be used within the year that ends on Sept. 30. The MentalHealthCenter initially had planned to stretch the money to help keep the HUB operating for up to four years and doesn't expect to spend the entire grant this year, said Carl Eby, director of community support services. Eby said the center would request permission to use unexpended grant money into next year.

The one-year windfall has allowed the HUB to do good things that it couldn't have otherwise afforded.

HUB manager Joe Chalupa reported that the center averaged 65 people a day, six days a week last year with the center open noon till 6p.m. Since service was expanded, the daily count has been running 75 to 80 people a day, seven days a week.

In just four months, new HUB services have helped dozens of people progress toward gainful employment despite their serious disabilities. Two vocational specialists added to the staff have provided 50 clients with information about resumes, brushing up on typing, good employee hygiene and other job skills. Fifteen found and maintained jobs in the community between January and April. Additionally, state vocational rehabilitation staff worked with other HUB clients and helped eight obtain jobs since January.

The HUB works by spending what amounts to just several dollars a day per client. People can get help because they need it. No appointment necessary. No qualifying for a program before walking through the door. Homeless and seriously mentally ill adults can drop in for a free midday meal; a safe, warm place to rest, read, play cards or watch television. They can meet with professional staff for help with housing and health care. The HUB connects people to mental health and chemical dependency treatment, to aid from Family Service Inc., Salvation Army and St.Vincent de Paul Society. Healthcare for the Homeless holds clinics at the HUB.

Crisis intervention

On Monday afternoon, Healthcare for the Homeless saw six patients, including two in crisis. The nurse practitioner got them both back on their prescription medications, helping them avoid an emergency department visit and hospitalization.

"The expansion has helped more people stay stable," said Lori Hartford, who manages Healthcare for the Homeless for the Yellowstone City-County Health Department.

Ask people why they come to the HUB and most say its socialization: "To see friends, chat at staff," one women answered.

"When I'm home alone, I don't have nothing to do," said a man who's been coming to the HUB for five years.

Imagine Billings without the HUB. Where would these people go every day? How many more would be on downtown streets or isolated in their tiny, low-rent apartments? Who would help them navigate the labyrinth of health and human services? What chance would they have of finding a place to stay or a place to work?

Billings needs this HUB.

Two years ago, area people rallied to save it. We kept it from closing then, but the struggle continues. The state ought to invest again in this drop-in center, which keeps many people from becoming state hospital patients. Burns may be able to finagle another federal grant.

But the HUB cannot survive solely on hopes of state and federal aid. Montana's budget is precariously balanced; federal deficits are ballooning. Over the long haul, this community service needs community support. Billings people must save the HUB.

May Clay Day
May Clay Day, the annual fund raiser for the HUB, is scheduled on May 23 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. in GrandviewPark, North 30th Street and Poly Drive. Visitors can throw a clay pot or build a clay sculpture. Clay art will be for sale. For more information, call the MentalHealthCenter at 252-5658 or go to on the Web.

Copyright 2004, Used with permission from The Billings Gazette.

Donate Now

Sign Up For Email

Please sign up below for important news about the work of The Carter Center and special event invitations.

Please leave this field empty
Now, we invite you to Get Involved
Back To Top