Residents of Mountain Home Montana, a shelter for homeless young mothers and their children who are often fleeing violent situations, have been victims of theft twice in the past three weeks.
"The thing that I feel so bad about is we are their safety net," says Mountain Home Executive Director Gypsy Ray. "And now the place that they feel safe in isn't safe."
Women and girls aged 16–24 seeking shelter at Mountain Home frequently have minimal belongings. For instance, Ray says it's not unusual for moms to show up with only a garbage bag containing all of their possessions. After often arriving on the heels of a series of physical and emotional assaults, losses are felt acutely.
"They're hurt yet again," Ray says. "They're victims yet again."
The first incident took place June 9 or June 10 when five cars were broken into. Belongings stolen included jumper cables, a change jar and a check slated to pay a Mountain Home resident's GED exam costs.
Those items were valued at a little over $500, says Sgt. Bob Bouchee from the Missoula Police Department.
The second incident took place June 21 or June 22 when two strollers valued at between $60 and $100 each were stolen.
"They were taken from the front porch," Bouchee says.
Police have no leads on who committed the crimes.
Mountain Home, which relies heavily on donations, replaced one stroller. But with little cash on hand, one resident is now without.
"They certainly don't have the resources to buy new ones," Ray says.
Ray says she's never witnessed anything like this during her 10 years working at the shelter. She attributes the recent criminal acts to a vulnerability exposed by Mountain Home's current expansion. Usually, residents and staffers park their cars in a fenced area and personal belongings like strollers are kept in a garage. Those items were moved to the front of the South Avenue shelter to make way for construction.