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Montana man pleads guilty to wildlife trafficking charges in scheme to clone sheep

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Montana man pleads guilty to wildlife trafficking charges in scheme to clone sheep


(CNN) — Over the course of nearly a decade, a Montana ranch owner and at least five other people conspired to clone sheep and create a larger hybrid species of what is already considered the world’s largest sheep species for financial gain, according to federal prosecutors.

Arthur “Jack” Schubarth, 80, of Vaughn, Montana, pleaded guilty to felony charges related to trafficking sheep parts from Asia into the United States – a violation of the Lacey Act – with an aim of selling the species to captive hunting facilities primarily in Texas, according to a news release from the US Department of Justice.

The Lacey Act prohibits trafficking of illegally taken wildlife, fish or plants, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

Schubarth faces a maximum of five years in prison for each of the two felony counts and up to a $250,000 fine. CNN has contacted an attorney listed for Schubarth for comment.

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Between 2013 and 2021, Schubarth and others set out to create a larger hybrid species of the Marco Polo argali sheep with trafficked sheep parts from Kyrgyzstan to garner higher prices from shooting preserves, according to the Justice Department.

The sheep species, often trophy hunted for its size and long spiraling horns, is listed as threatened under the US Endangered Species Act, according to court documents.

Marco Polo argali sheep, which can weigh more than 300 pounds and have horns spanning more than 5 feet, are banned in Montana “to protect native sheep from disease and hybridization,” according to the Justice Department.

Schubarth, who owned a 215-acre game farm where mountain sheep, mountain goats and other hoofed mammals were bought, sold, and bred, is the only person named in the court documents.

The five others involved are described in the documents as residents of Montana, Texas and Minnesota who were involved in alternative livestock husbandry and commercial livestock sales, according to court documents.

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Schubarth is accused of conspiring to bring parts of the internationally and domestically protected Marco Polo argali sheep, which are native to Central Asia’s Pamir Mountains region, into the US without declaring the parts, court documents state. Schubarth is accused of engaging a third party to create a cloned argali sheep from the trafficked parts.

Schubarth’s farm – Sun River Enterprises, also known as Schubarth Ranch – mainly marketed and sold live animals and genetic material, like semen, to shooting preserves, court documents state.

He and co-conspirators allegedly performed artificial insemination and other types of artificial breeding to “create larger and more valuable lines of argali sheep,” according to the documents.

“The kind of crime we uncovered here could threaten the integrity of our wildlife species in Montana,” Ron Howell, chief of enforcement for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said in a statement.

In January 2013, the co-conspirator from Montana entered the US with undeclared biological tissue from a Marco Polo argali sheep that had been hunted in Kyrgyzstan, according to court documents.

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Days later, Schubarth entered a cell storage agreement with a company to store and preserve the tissue from a male sheep named Rocky, according to the documents, which add that Schubarth entered an ovine cloning contract in October 2015 to have an unspecified number of sheep cloned from the tissue.

He received 165 cloned Marco Polo embryos in November 2016 at his ranch, the documents state. In May 2017, a pure male Marco Polo argali sheep was born from the embryos, and Schubarth named it Montana Mountain King.

In 2018, authorities say Schubarth began harvesting semen from Montana Mountain King to artificially inseminate ewes in hopes of creating hybrid offspring.

Using Montana Mountain King’s semen, Schubarth and co-conspirators artificially inseminated female sheep species that are also banned in Montana in an attempt to create hybrid animals, the Justice Department said.

Schubarth and others moved the illegal sheep into and out of Montana by forging veterinary inspection certificates, according to court documents.

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Schubarth also violated Montana law by obtaining genetic material from the state’s Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, which are the largest native wild sheep species in North America, according to the court document. Montana prohibits game animal parts being sold there and also “prohibits the use of Montana game animals on alternative livestock ranches,” according to the Justice Department.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service and Montana’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks are investigating the case. Schubarth is set to be sentenced on July 11.



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Path to a better TB vaccine runs through Montana

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Path to a better TB vaccine runs through Montana


Jim Robbins

(KFF) A team of Montana researchers is playing a key role in the development of a more effective vaccine against tuberculosis, an infectious disease that has killed more people than any other.

The BCG (Bacille Calmette-Guérin) vaccine, created in 1921, remains the sole TB vaccine. While it is 40% to 80% effective in young children, its efficacy is very low in adolescents and adults, leading to a worldwide push to create a more powerful vaccine.

One effort is underway at the University of Montana Center for Translational Medicine. The center specializes in improving and creating vaccines by adding what are called novel adjuvants. An adjuvant is a substance included in the vaccine, such as fat molecules or aluminum salts, that enhances the immune response, and novel adjuvants are those that have not yet been used in humans. Scientists are finding that adjuvants make for stronger, more precise, and more durable immunity than antigens, which create antibodies, would alone.

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Eliciting specific responses from the immune system and deepening and broadening the response with adjuvants is known as precision vaccination. “It’s not one-size-fits-all,” said Ofer Levy, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard University and the head of the Precision Vaccines Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. “A vaccine might work differently in a newborn versus an older adult and a middle-aged person.”

The ultimate precision vaccine, said Levy, would be lifelong protection from a disease with one jab. “A single-shot protection against influenza or a single-shot protection against covid, that would be the holy grail,” Levy said.

Jay Evans, the director of the University of Montana center and the chief scientific and strategy officer and a co-founder of Inimmune, a privately held biotechnology company in Missoula, said his team has been working on a TB vaccine for 15 years. The private-public partnership is developing vaccines and trying to improve existing vaccines, and he said it’s still five years off before the TB vaccine might be distributed widely.

It has not gone unnoticed at the center that this state-of-the-art vaccine research and production is located in a state that passed one of the nation’s most extreme anti-vaccination laws during the pandemic in 2021. The law prohibits businesses and governments from discriminating against people who aren’t vaccinated against covid-19 or other diseases, effectively banning both public and private employers from requiring workers to get vaccinated against covid or any other disease. A federal judge later ruled that the law cannot be enforced in health care settings, such as hospitals and doctors’ offices.

In mid-March, the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute announced it had begun the third and final phase of clinical trials for the new vaccine in seven countries. The trials should take about five years to complete. Research and production are being done in several places, including at a manufacturing facility in Hamilton owned by GSK, a giant pharmaceutical company.

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Known as the forgotten pandemic, TB kills up to 1.6 million people a year, mostly in impoverished areas in Asia and Africa, despite its being both preventable and treatable. The U.S. has seen an increase in tuberculosis over the past decade, especially with the influx of migrants, and the number of cases rose by 16% from 2022 to 2023. Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death among people living with HIV, whose risk of contracting a TB infection is 20 times as great as people without HIV.

“TB is a complex pathogen that has been with human beings for ages,” said Alemnew Dagnew, who heads the program for the new vaccine for the Gates Medical Research Institute. “Because it has been with human beings for many years, it has evolved and has a mechanism to escape the immune system. And the immunology of TB is not fully understood.”

The University of Montana Center for Translational Medicine and Inimmune together have 80 employees who specialize in researching a range of adjuvants to understand the specifics of immune responses to different substances. “You have to tailor it like tools in a toolbox towards the pathogen you are vaccinating against,” Evans said. “We have a whole library of adjuvant molecules and formulations.”

Vaccines are made more precise largely by using adjuvants. There are three basic types of natural adjuvants: aluminum salts; squalene, which is made from shark liver; and some kinds of saponins, which are fat molecules. It’s not fully understood how they stimulate the immune system. The center in Missoula has also created and patented a synthetic adjuvant, UM-1098, that drives a specific type of immune response and will be added to new vaccines.

One of the most promising molecules being used to juice up the immune system response to vaccines is a saponin molecule from the bark of the quillay tree, gathered in Chile from trees at least 10 years old. Such molecules were used by Novavax in its covid vaccine and by GSK in its widely used shingles vaccine, Shingrix. These molecules are also a key component in the new tuberculosis vaccine, known as the M72 vaccine.

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But there is room for improvement.

“The vaccine shows 50% efficacy, which doesn’t sound like much, but basically there is no effective vaccine currently, so 50% is better than what’s out there,” Evans said. “We’re looking to take what we learned from that vaccine development with additional adjuvants to try and make it even better and move 50% to 80% or more.”

By contrast, measles vaccines are 95% effective.

According to Medscape, around 15 vaccine candidates are being developed to replace the BCG vaccine, and three of them are in phase 3 clinical trials.

One approach Evans’ center is researching to improve the new vaccine’s efficacy is taking a piece of the bacterium that causes TB, synthesizing it, and combining it with the adjuvant QS-21, made from the quillay tree. “It stimulates the immune system in a way that is specific to TB and it drives an immune response that is even closer to what we get from natural infections,” Evans said.

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The University of Montana center is researching the treatment of several problems not commonly thought of as treatable with vaccines. They are entering the first phase of clinical trials for a vaccine for allergies, for instance, and first-phase trials for a cancer vaccine. And later this year, clinical trials will begin for vaccines to block the effects of opioids like heroin and fentanyl. The University of Montana received the largest grant in its history, $33 million, for anti-opioid vaccine research. It works by creating an antibody that binds with the drug in the bloodstream, which keeps it from entering the brain and creating the high.

For now, though, the eyes of health care experts around the world are on the trials for the new TB vaccines, which, if they are successful, could help save countless lives in the world’s poorest places.





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Montana State Bobcats stage comeback to top Montana Grizzlies in men’s tennis

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Montana State Bobcats stage comeback to top Montana Grizzlies in men’s tennis


BOZEMAN — Montana State freshman Kanika Jayathilake knew how it looked during the third set of his decisive match against Montana’s Chris Zhang during Sunday’s Brawl of the Wild men’s tennis match.

“I probably looked dead on the court because I wasn’t saying anything in the third set,” Jayathilake said, “but it was to help me breathe and regulate my (body), and it worked. Finding the method that works for me, which is maybe not being as loud as I am off the court, is probably better for me in matches.”

Jayathilake’s method proved wildly effective. He survived a third set service break to fall behind 5-3, dealt Zhang two breaks of his own, then served out match point at 40-30 to clinch his own victory at No. 6 singles and hand the Bobcats a 4-3 win over their arch rivals in front of 150 spectators at the Bobcat-Anderson Tennis Center.

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“The freshmen at four, five and six were huge,” said Montana State head coach Rob Bareford. “Their first Brawl of the Wild, at home, tons of fans, and they stepped up when their team needed them.”

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That the Bobcats would need Jayathilake’s efforts at No. 6 singles seemed improbable for much of the afternoon. The Grizzlies captured the doubles point to take a 1-0 lead, the after Tom Bittner’s straight-sets win over MSU’s Max Relic led 2-0. Bobcat freshman Rayen Hermassi took a 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) win at No. 4, Tom Bittner’s win 6-2, 7-6 (7-5) over Bobcat Max Relic at No. 1 singles pushed the Grizzlies one win from victory.

On court three, Bobcat grad transfer Max Relic split the first two sets with UM’s Fernando Perez, but powered to a 6-3 set three win to close the team score to 3-2.

“Andras coming through on Senior Day, his last home match here, that was huge,” Bareford said. “You couldn’t write a better story.”

Except that MSU’s freshmen at No. 5 and No. 6 singles, Andre Stewart and Jayathilake, set about doing just that. Stewart dropped the first set 6-0, owing largely to serving struggles.

“The first set I served horribly,” Stewart said with a smile, “that’s why I got bageled six-love. Honestly, I don’t think I made a first serve in the first set.”

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Stewart bounced back with a 6-3 win in set two as his serving form returned, then took a 6-4 victory in set three.

“The second and third sets I served well enough,” he said. “I got my first serve in. That’s really important against a player like (Moeritz Stoeger).”

Once Stewart returned to form, Bareford said his attention shifted.

“Honestly, I didn’t have any worries about Andre,” he said. “I knew he was going to come back, I knew he wasn’t playing anywhere close to his level, and I knew he was going to be fine. Once he won the second set I kind of left him alone because I knew he was going to win the third and I wanted to be on Kani’s court.”

Jayathilake won the first set at No. 6 singles against Zhang 7-6, scoring the final three points in the tiebreaker to capture it 8-6. Set two also went to the seven-point tiebreaker, and after Jayathilake dashed out to a 6-2 lead Zhang scored four straight to tie the score. The two traded points until Jayathilake took a 10-9 lead. At that point Zhang won three straight points to take the second set, 7-6 (12-10).

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Jayathilake said he didn’t feel discouraged, instead reaching deep inside.

“I just felt like I’ve put in so much work and am not playing how I wish I could play after four months (at MSU),” he said. “After I lost that second set those thoughts came back, but I think the difference in this match versus other ones is that I stopped caring, I kept trying but I thought I was caring too much about everyone else. I just had to let go and do whatever works, just send it.”

Jayathilake, an Australian, and Zhang, originally from New Zealand, stayed on serve through the first seven games of the third set, but leading 4-3 Zhang broke Jayathilake’s serve to take a 5-3 lead. At the point of elimination, Jayathilake fought back with a service break of his own, then held serve to knot things at 5-5. Jayathilake jumped out to a 40-0 lead then broke serve at 40-15 to take a 6-5 lead. Zhang led 15-0 and 30-15 in the decisive game, but Jayathilake served out the next three points to clinch the match.

“It was a great moment,” Bareford said of Jayathilake’s win and the Bobcat team rushing him to celebrate. “I was definitely trying to be on his court because (Zhang is) his buddy from back home in Australia and they played right before (Jayathilake) came to college and Kani lost, so I knew that was going to be a tough one.”

Jayathilake said the victory over his long-time friend was especially meaningful.

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“He is the guy that helped me come to college,” Jayathilake said. “I trained with him in Australia, so he was the last person that I was hitting with before I came here.”

And then Jayathilake smiled.

“He wanted me to go to his school,” he said. “But thank God I didn’t. This is great.”

Montana State’s five-hour, 20-minute win raised the team’s record to 9-11 overall and 4-4 in Big Sky play, while the Grizzlies fell to 14-9 overall, 4-4 in the league. The Cats enter next week’s Big Sky Tournament as the fifth seed, playing fourth-seeded Weber State on Thursday, while the Grizzlies grab the sixth seed and face Idaho State.

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PBS NewsHour | Montana city grapples with rise of people living in vehicles | Season 2024 | ThinkTV

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PBS NewsHour | Montana city grapples with rise of people living in vehicles | Season 2024 | ThinkTV


IN SOME CITIES WITH GROWING NUMBERS OF HOMELESS PEOPLE, THE ISSUE GOES BEYOND ENCAMPMENTS IN PUBLIC PLACES.

THEY’RE ALSO COPING WITH MORE PEOPLE LIVING IN CARS AND RV’S PARKED ON CITY STREETS.

MONTANA PBS’ JOE LESAR REPORTS ON HOW CITY LEADERS IN BOZEMAN, MONTANA, ARE DEALING WITH THE TENSIONS BROUGHT ON BY THIS MORE VISIBLE DISPLAY OF HOMELSSNESS.

>> I WILL TELL YOU, MAN, YOU HAVE TO HAVE THICK SKIN OUT HERE.

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>> THE WINDOW BROKE OUT.

IT IS COMPLETELY GONE.

JOE STEVE AND BELINDA ANKNEY : HAVE BEEN LIVING IN THEIR TRAILER ON THE STREETS OF BOZEMAN FOR THE PAST THREE YEARS.

>> WE TAKE PLATES AROUND, OR IF PEOPLE ARE HAVING A HARD TIME AND THEY’RE NOT EATING THEY’LL STOP BY AND ASK IF WE CAN HELP IN ANY WAY.

JOE THE RISING COST OF LIVING : HAS ONLY COMPOUNDED ISSUES THEY’VE BEEN FACING FOR YEARS.

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>> I WAS RAISED WITH THE DRUGS, I WAS RAISED WITH THE ALCOHOL.

IT’S ALL I KNEW.

JOE BOTH HAVE STRUGGLED WITH : ADDICTION.

BELINDA WORKS FULL TIME AT A RESTAURANT, BUT HEALTH ISSUES MADE WORSE BY INCONSISTENT ACCESS TO CARE HAVE AFFECTED STEVEN’S ABILITY TO WORK.

BELINDA: ONE OF THE BIGGEST MISCONCEPTIONS IS THAT WE WANT TO BE HERE AND WE ARE NOT TRYING TO GET OUT.

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JOE: BELINDA’S LEGAL TROUBLES ADD ANOTHER BARRIER TO SECURING HOUSING.

BELINDA: THE MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES, THE DRUG ISSUES, IN AND OUT OF INCARCERATION, NOT GETTING THE RIGHT HELP, NOT BEING ON THE RIGHT MEDS.

JOE: URBAN CAMPING, AS IT’S BEEN NAMED, HAS INCREASED BY 200% IN THE LAST 2 YEARS, ACCORDING TO CITY OFFICIALS.

IT’S A GROWING ISSUE THAT’S INCREASINGLY DIVIDING BOZEMAN.

>> IF BOZEMAN IS TOO EXPENSIVE TO LIVE IN, CHOOSE ANOTHER PLACE TO LIVE.

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>> IT FEELS MORE LIKE A WARZONE WITH ALL THIS HOUSING CRISIS AND NO SOLUTION TO ANYTHING.

>> BOZEMAN DOESN’T OWE ANYBODY ANYTHING.

>> I’VE NEVER BEEN IN A CITY WHERE THERE’S SO MUCH CONFLICT OVER THIS HOMELESSNESS THING.

JOE: TO TACKLE THIS GROWING ISSUE, BOZEMAN RECENTLY IMPLEMENTED A NEW ORDINANCE LIMITING CAMPING IN THE SAME SPOT TO 30 DAYS, WITH THE OPTION OF FILING FOR AN EXTENSION.

THERE ARE RULES ABOUT KEEPING CAMPS CLEAN, AND AFTER THREE WARNINGS, $25 CIVIL PENALTIES WILL BE ISSUED.

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IF UNSANITARY CONDITIONS CONTINUE, THE CITY CAN CLEAR A CAMP 72 HOURS AFTER GIVING NOTICE.

BUT SOME ARE CRITICIZING CITY LEADERS FOR PUTTING TOO MUCH OF A BURDEN ON THE UNHOUSED.

OTHERS FEEL THEY ARE BEING TOO LENIENT.

MAYOR TERRY CUNNINGHAM SAYS THE RULES ABOUT WHERE CAMPING WILL BE ALLOWED WILL HELP MAKE THE SITUATION MORE MANAGEABLE.

>> YOU CANNOT BE PARKED IN FRONT OF A BUSINESS.

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YOU CANNOT BE PARKED IN FRONT OF A SCHOOL, CHILD CARE FACILITY, RESIDENCE, ETC.

SO NARROWING THE AREAS THAT IT IS ACCEPTABLE TO CAMP IN FRONT OF IS IMPORTANT SO WE CAN GET SOME LEVEL OF PREDICTABILITY AND CONTROL.

JOE: BUT MANY CAMPS ARE ALREADY IN COMPLIANCE WITH THOSE RULES.

A GROUP OF BUSINESSES ARE SUING THE CITY, ALLEGING THAT IT IS REFUSING TO ENFORCE EXISTING LAWS WITHIN THE HOMELESS ENCAMPMENTS.

ANDREW HINNENKAMP RUNS ONE OF THE BUSINESSES INVOLVED IN THE LAWSUIT.

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ANDREW: EARLY ON, WE HAD SOME THEFT OF SERVICES ON THE PROPERTY.

WE HAD A LITTLE BIT OF A HARASSMENT INTERACTION WITH AN EMPLOYEE AND ONE OF THE INDIVIDUALS.

>> HOMELESSNESS HAS ALWAYS BEEN ON THE RADAR.

THIS WITH URBAN CAMPING COME UP MORE CARS, THIS IS A RECENT PHENOMENON.

JOE: BECAUSE OF THE GENERATORS, NEW MODEL CARS AND TV ANTENNAS, THERE’S A SENTIMENT IN BOZEMAN THAT PEOPLE ARE CHOOSING TO CAMP IN ORDER TO SAVE MONEY ON HOUSING.

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CITY OFFICIALS ACKNOWLEDGE THAT SOME PEOPLE ARE DOING THAT, AND WILL BE ASKED TO MOVE ON.

BUT – – MOVE ON.

BUT FIGURING OUT WHO THOSE PEOPLE ARE COMES WITH CHALLENGES.

>> ONE OF THE DIFFICULTIES IS HAVING THAT DISCUSSION AND ASKING, WHY ARE YOU CURRENTLY HOMELESS?

THEY ARE NOT REQUIRED TO PROVIDE US WITH THAT INFORMATION AND ARE OFTEN UNCOMFORTABLE ANSWERING THAT TYPE OF QUESTION.

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JOE: THE POPULATION OF PEOPLE EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS IN BOZEMAN HAS INCREASED BY 50% SINCE 2020.

AND THE GROUPS PROVIDING SERVICES TO THIS GROWING POPULATION HAVE STRUGGLED TO MEET THE DEMAND.

>> AS A RESULT OF COVID, THERE WAS THIS BIG UPTICK IN DEMAND AND THERE WAS THIS OUTPOURING OF SUPPORT, AND NOW THE OUTPOURING OF SUPPORT HAS DROPPED OFF.

BUT THE DEMAND HAS STAYED UP AT THIS LEVEL AND THE RESOURCES ARE VERY INSUFFICIENT TO MEET THE NEED.

JOE: HEATHER GREINER, WHO RUNS THE NONPROFIT HUMAN RESOURCE DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL, SAYS HER ORGANIZATION’S CASELOAD IS AT CAPACITY, AND THERE ARE NOT MANY ALTERNATIVES AVAILABLE.

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HEATHER: IT’S REMARKABLY DIFFICULT BECAUSE THERE’S NO PATHWAY FOR US TO HELP THEM, THERE’S NO HOUSING, THERE’S NO RENTAL ASSISTANCE TO HELP THEM GET INTO A HOUSING UNIT, EVEN IF THERE WERE A HOUSING UNIT, THERE’S NO TRANSITIONAL HOUSING.

JOE: USAGE OF HRDC’S OVERNIGHT SHELTER HAS NEARLY DOUBLED SINCE 2019.

SOME OF THAT NEED SHOULD BE EASED WHEN THEIR NEW 24/7 OVERNIGHT SHELTER OPENS, BUT THAT’S NOT EXPECTED UNTIL NEXT YEAR.

GRENIER BELIEVES THIS NEWER, MORE VISIBLE FORM OF HOMELESSNESS HAS CAUSED A SHIFT IN ATTITUDES AROUND BOZEMAN.

HEATHER: JUST THE GENERAL SENTIMENT THAT EVERYONE DESERVES A SAFE, WARM PLACE TO SLEEP IS NOT — DOESN’T REALLY RESONATE WITH EVERYONE ANYMORE.

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BELINDA: ARE WE OUT?

ARE WE OUT FOR REAL?

STEPHEN: NO, IT IS HEATING UP.

I DON’T KNOW.

JOE: CAUGHT BETWEEN A LACK OF SERVICES AND A FRUSTRATED COMMUNITY ARE PEOPLE LIKE STEVEN AND BELINDA.

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STEPHEN: THERE ARE GOOD PEOPLE IN BOZEMAN.

IT IS JUST OVERSHADOWED, THE UGLY OVERSHADOWS THE GOOD.

WE ARE HAVING THE STRUGGLES AND WE ARE HAVING THESE PROBLEMS.

BUT WE ARE GOING TO MAKE IT TO THE OTHER SIDE.

JOE: FOR PBS NEWS WEEKEND, I’M JOE LESAR.

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