Billings City Council and YWCA Expand Family Justice Center

Billings City Council and YWCA Expand Family Justice Center

With domestic violence now accounting for 59 percent of violent crime in the city, Billings is expanding the Northern Lights Family Justice Center. It’s a place where people affected by sex crimes and domestic violence can get help from advocates, law enforcement and other support service partners in one location.

Of course, there are resources for victims of these crimes. But in Billings, they are spread out among multiple providers in different locations throughout the city.

This makes the already difficult and often dangerous decision to seek help even more complicated. And it exacerbates the physical, emotional and financial barriers that often accompany abuse.

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In its 2024 budget, city council allocated $200,000 from the crime prevention fund to launch the family justice centre with the help of community partner agencies.







Suspicious death

In February 2023, Billings police investigated the home of a woman who was beaten to death. The murder suspect, Terrell Lee Spottedwolf Sr., was in a relationship with the woman and has since been charged with homicide.


The Billings Gazette


The YWCA Billings houses Northern Lights in a building on its Midtown campus along Wyoming Avenue. It now has a full-time staff member, Taya Keith, who coordinates the family justice center’s work with the city and other local agencies.







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The Billings YWCA at 909 Wyoming Avenue.


LARRY MAYER


On Monday night, the City Council unanimously approved a new agreement with YWCA Billings to continue developing Northern Lights and provide additional funding over the next three fiscal years.

Billings has committed to giving the nonprofit $200,000 a year in 2025 and 2026. The city plans to increase its contribution in 2027 to at least the value of one mill, which currently stands at about $269,767.

Northern Lights plans to use the money to continue Keith’s work as coordinator and hire a second full-time employee, a service navigator who will collect data, conduct client intakes and provide each client with an evidence-based risk assessment. The navigator will then work with people seeking help to develop personalized safety plans and connect them with the services they need.







Erin Lambert

Erin Lambert of the YWCA shows a poster offering help to victims of domestic and sexual violence.


BOB ZELLAR/The Gazette


The city’s investment can also help pay for staff training, supplies and equipment for the center, and provide its clients with assistance with basic needs, such as child care, transportation and cell phones that their abusers don’t have access to.

The YWCA is expected to help cover some of the operational costs, such as insurance, internet service, utilities, tax filing, annual audits, meeting space and administrative and accounting support.

Between 2018 and 2023, the Billings Police Department handled an average of 1,059 domestic violence cases per year. That means the city’s law enforcement made an average of more than one arrest per day on suspicion of assault against a partner or family member.

Until recently, Billings had only two domestic violence investigators. Earlier this year, the state added a third investigator to assist the city’s team.







Katie Nash

Katie Nash is a domestic violence investigator with the Billings Police Department.


LARRY MAYER, BILLINGS GAZETTE


Mayor Bill Cole said he hopes Yellowstone County will become a partner in developing the family justice center by also contributing to the effort.

“We want this to be a community facility, not just a municipal facility,” he said. “And I’m concerned that’s going to happen.”

Northern Lights’ budget for its first year is $235,000. That includes $200,000 from the city, a $25,000 grant and other donations.







Public Safety Meeting

Billings City Administrator Chris Kukulski, left, and Mayor Bill Cole review information on a projection screen as the City Council hosts a public safety roundtable at the Billings Public Library on Dec. 4, 2023.


LARRY MAYER, BILLINGS GAZETTE


“This is just the first year,” said City Administrator Chris Kukulski, noting that leaders are already working on a budget with grants and donations that will allow the center to grow in the future.







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Northern Lights plans to invite the public to tour the center and learn more about it during a soft opening event later this summer or early this fall.