May 18, 2024


Extraordinary care

Director of behavioral health drop-in center alleges discrimination; county denies | News

Mandi Boston, executive director of White Buffalo Healing Lodge, received eviction papers from the Butte Business Development Center on Mercury Street on March 18 on the grounds that her business interfered with the operation of other tenants and displayed conduct improper or unsuitable for a place of business.

But Boston believes the eviction is a retaliation to a human rights complaint she told Butte-Silver Bow Community Development Director Karen Byrnes she was going to file on March 14, and that she and her business have been targets of discrimination.

Boston wasn’t able to file the complaint until after she received the eviction notice.

Complaint investigations with the Montana Human Rights Bureau must be completed within 180 days of the complaint being filed, according to the Montana Department of Labor and Industry’s website.

If the investigation finds discrimination occurred, the bureau will attempt to conciliate the case with the involved parties, which can include “compensation for any losses incurred, making employment available to the charging party, modifying any practices having an adverse effect on protected classes; and taking other affirmative steps needed to eliminate discrimination,” the website said.

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In the event conciliation doesn’t happen, the DLI will hold a public hearing.

WBHL is a behavioral health drop-in center that provides peer support, Native American cultural connections, and referrals to local Licensed Addiction Counselors and Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors, according to its website.

Although Boston, a licensed addiction counselor, leased room 304 in the BDC in the fall of 2021, she leased room 402 for her private business, A Peace of Healing, from April 2021 to November 2021.

The idea of a drop-in center is relatively new, Boston said. Rather than needing to make an appointment, anyone in need of behavioral health services can come into WBHL during business hours regardless of ability to pay. WBHL is funded by a state grant to help those in need.

WBHL provides services to people experiencing homelessness, behavioral health issues and developmental disabilities, as many other businesses in the BDC do, Boston said in court documents.

The Silver Bow Developmental Disabilities Council, Headframe Counseling, Butte Cares, Montana State University Extension for Silver Bow County and Montana State Fund reside in the BDC, along with a host of others, but Boston said she was singled out by the building manager, Sherrie Walsh, citing discrimination of her clients.

Walsh didn’t respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.

“The only difference I’m seeing between [us and] the other tenants seeing individuals who have mental illnesses and experience homelessness is the majority of our clientele is Native,” Boston said.

Boston herself in not Native American, but strongly believes in the culture and the practices, which she started learning about when she met her adopted son. She said she doesn’t appropriate the culture; she doesn’t lead talking circles or anything that would “cross that line,” but does what she can to help people in crisis de-escalate using Native rituals.

Byrnes said Boston is being evicted because she violated Section 9 of her lease by interfering with the operation of other tenants and displaying conduct improper or unsuitable for a place of business.

“There is no discrimination going on,” Byrnes said.


Many of the complaints about WBHL interfering with other tenants and displaying improper conduct has to do with the behavior of WBHL’s clients.

The first complaint listed in the county’s log is dated September 2021, where a man The Montana Standard has chosen not to identify for his privacy allegedly kicked a client from Psychiatric Consultants, Inc. in the stomach after she and another client refused to give him money. The clients called the office manager of Psychiatric Consultants, but “the man was down the street before the office manager could get close,” the complaint reads. Byrnes said that to her knowledge, a police report wasn’t filed.

In the documents, Boston is referred to as Mandi Shaff, because that’s her married name. She’s since divorced and goes by her maiden name.

Psychiatric Consultants, Inc. didn’t respond for comment by the time of publication.

Boston said WBHL got approved for grant funding in August and received the first part of that funding in the middle of September. She said that although WBHL was in room 304 in September, she spent that month decorating the room and hiring staff. WBHL didn’t open to the public until Oct. 1, she said, so the man in question couldn’t have been visiting WBHL. She said she kept a record of logs recording each person who dropped in to WBHL each day it was open, and those logs don’t start until October.

But Byrnes said that Boston opened WBHL in September because her lease is dated Sept. 1, 2021. According to a copy of the lease that was provided to The Standard, Boston signed the lease Oct. 4 and Byrnes signed it Nov. 3.

The man from the September incident is listed in the complaint several more times because he was a client of WBHL. He struggles with developmental disabilities, behavioral health and homelessness, according to both Boston and Byrnes.

Boston said the client didn’t access WBHL until December according to the logs, and that she didn’t know him until he started coming in.

She noted in her response that Byrnes told her at a meeting in December 2021 that the man “is well-known within the community” and had caused disruptions at the courthouse.

“WBHL is not responsible for [the man’s] behavior in other offices within a public building,” Boston said in her response to the county’s complaint log.

In an interview with the Standard, Byrnes acknowledged the man goes to many places in the community including the hospital and AWARE, and is “very ill.”

The main, recurring issues listed throughout the complaint are about tenants complaining of a bad smell and smoke, clients leaving messes in bathrooms and trash in the hallways, people using WBHL as a “warming center” to drink coffee and watch TV, and WBHL clients scaring tenants.

The first complaint of smudging in the county’s log is dated November 2021.

Boston said the smoke came from smudging, a Native American ritual that involves burning sage and sweet grass to cleanse the air, which WBHL had been practicing since she leased room 402 in April 2021. She said she wasn’t made aware of any complaints of smudging until February 2022.

The county’s complaint log said Byrnes asked Mandi to stop smudging on Feb. 3 and Boston confirms this.

The first complaint of WBHL clients making messes in the BDC’s bathrooms doesn’t appear in the log until November 2021. It alleges homeless clients entered the BDC and left messes in the restroom on the second floor, which Walsh had to clean up because there is no maintenance person at the BDC during the day.

In her response to the November 2021 complaint, Boston said the messes in the bathroom had been consistent since she moved into room 402 in April 2021.

“Often there is blood, feces and urine on the toilet seats,” Boston said in her response. “The messes cannot be directly linked to individuals accessing the WBHL.” She stayed firm on this point in both her response log and a separate log she wrote documenting incidents she felt were discriminatory toward her clients. She said in her response to the county’s complaint log that in a November meeting, she and Kathy Chavis, a licensed clinical professional counselor and licensed addiction counselor whom WBHL shared an office with, met with Byrnes about the messes in the bathroom.

In this meeting, she said, it was decided there was no proof the messes were caused by WBHL clients, and therefore the bathrooms would be locked and each tenant would receive a key to give to clients as needed.

Byrnes confirmed the meeting, saying that after the BDC started locking the bathrooms and doling out keys, the messes in the bathrooms stopped. She said that before WBHL opened for business, there wasn’t a problem with messes in the second floor bathrooms. She said there are occasionally messes in the first floor bathrooms from developmentally disabled clients, but the tenants cleaned those up.

Boston said she asked Walsh if WBHL could clean after their clients, but was told no, because they needed special cleaning products, but wasn’t told what those products were.

Byrnes said Boston was afforded the opportunity to clean up after her clients.

Although locks were put on the doors to the second floor bathrooms and keys were given out starting at the end of December, there are complaints of messes in the second floor bathrooms attributed to WBHL clients in the county’s complaint log on Jan. 12, when Walsh reportedly had to clean feces off a toilet seat in the second-floor women’s bathroom. Boston said WBHL didn’t hand out its bathroom key that day, so the feces couldn’t have been from a WBHL client.

The first complaint of WBHL clients leaving messes in the hallways is dated Dec. 2021 in the county’s log, when “two of the clients left their bags in the hallway and the tenant on the third floor complained of the smell of their bags.”

Boston said that two men did leave their stuff outside her door, but that she didn’t smell anything bad. She wrote in her response that she didn’t realize the bags were there until after she walked out of the office with the clients, and that it hasn’t been a recurring issue.

She also said that in the office across the hall, there were chairs, dirty mats, and moldy bagels that had been sitting out for a month that weren’t reported.

There’s also a complaint on Jan. 28 of a client “banging down from the third floor to the first floor with a big TV box filled with trash going all over” and that Walsh had to pick the trash up. Boston said Chavis was with the client–who was volunteering at WBHL by vacuuming and taking out the garbage– at the time of the incident and didn’t see any trash fall.

The most frequent complaint throughout the county’s log is of people scaring the other tenants and coming into the BDC looking for a warming center.

Boston said that because the idea of a drop-in center is new, there was some communication at the Butte Rescue Mission, where word got around that the WBHL was a warming center. Boston said that when she heard what was going on, she talked to managers at the Butte Rescue Mission and made it clear the WBHL was never a warming center.

A warming center is a place people can go to stay warm and dry when it is wet and cold, but unlike homeless shelters, are usually only open when the weather is bad.

She added when people came in looking for a warming center, she would tell them WBHL wasn’t a warming center but if they wanted to utilize services or be referred to agencies, the staff would be happy to do that.

Boston said when that happened, about 90% of people left, but some did stay for services.

There are over 15 complaints in the log that reported tenants were nervous and uncomfortable because of people in the BDC, who the county alleges were WBHL clients. In a couple of these instances, the people in question interacted with Walsh directly. In other, they reportedly interacted with tenants and their clients.

There were a couple of incidents in which WBHL clients and alleged clients reportedly made others in the BDC uneasy by talking to them — like a complaint in November 2021 when a cleaner for Psychiatric Consultants, Inc. was approached by someone “trying to talk to her and give her stuff.”

Boston said in that particular encounter, the person hadn’t been to WBHL yet, and that the individual “attempting to speak to a lady doesn’t seem to be an intimidating act, and we cannot be responsible for others’ stigmas.”

Another such instance reported on Feb. 2 alleges that a WBHL client was in and out of the BDC three times, and on the third time was “yelling nonsense” at Walsh, stating he cleaned up garbage outside the BDC. According to the complaint, Walsh went into her office and locked the door.

In Boston’s response, she said the client didn’t sign in to the WBHL that day, but did run into one of the WBHL’s staff members and helped her carry things into the building. They ran into Walsh, the response said, and the staff member saw the client tell Walsh ‘Hi miss, I pick up garbage around this building.’”

The response agrees that Walsh ignored him and went into her office, and the client left and “did not present with intimidation or aggression” according to the peer support specialist who witnessed the incident.

“Sherrie behaved unprofessionally and [was] discriminatory toward [the client] based on her biases,” Boston wrote in her response.

There are also complaints in the log that are more serious.

A complaint in the log dated Dec. 9, 2021 alleges there were two men “lingering in the third-floor hallway asking questions about college in the Extension office, making the tenant very nervous and uncomfortable.”

On that same date, there’s a complaint where “aggressive” people who the county identifies as WBHL clients come into the BDC looking for a warming center and talk about hiding in the BDC, which made employees at Butte Cares and the Extension office feel unsafe.

Butte Cares didn’t respond to request for comment by the time of publication and the MSU Extension declined to comment.

The complaint reports that interactions like the ones stated above “had the [Extension office] tenant on edge the entire day, and she chose to teach her virtual class the following day from home to avoid the office. Also, it scared her to be in the office on the evening of Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, teaching a class late and [made] her question whether to offer programs in the office in the evenings.”

In response to these complaints, Boston said they did not have anyone looking for a warming center and had no aggressive clients. She also questioned why people who said they were looking for the WBHL were not directed there by Walsh.

“We are unaware of any other clients discussing ‘hiding places’ within the building and did not hear of this until receiving this written complaint from Sherrie Walsh, building manager.”

Another complaint of this nature is from Jan. 14, and involved a client calling Boston saying his girlfriend was following him and he was going to slit her throat. Boston said she was concerned by this and followed the policy WBHL has in place for “agitated clients.” She said she told the client to go see his therapist at Western Montana Mental Health Center, called the police and Chavis and asked her to notify Walsh.

Walsh said she notified the tenants and that they were scared.

Boston said that the client did not go to WBHL that day and did see his therapist at WMTMHC.

There is also a Feb. 7 complaint where a WBHL client went into the extension office and “started grabbing Kleenex and using the hand sanitizer, spraying it everywhere.” The complaint said the tenant told the client that she bought those supplies herself and asked him to stop, after which he ran out.

Boston said she wasn’t in the office that day because her son was sick, and that “WBHL is not responsible for [clients’] behavior in other offices within a public building.”

The log frequently mentions people going into the WBHL to drink coffee and watch TV. Boston said WBHL does offer coffee and have a TV, but that people must be utilizing services to be in the office. Most of the time, she said, the TV plays music, although she did play a movie once for an agitated client as a de-escalation dialectical behavioral therapy.

“It was a distraction from his own stuff, and there was nobody else in here, and it worked,” Boston said. “An hour into the movie, he was de-escalated, he was ready to move on with his day. That’s happened once. If I need to use that skill, I’m going to, but that’s not the first skill I use.”

When clients would come in who Walsh thought were looking for a warming center or loitering, she would tell them to leave. Both logs are aligned on this fact.

But Boston said this often involved Walsh accosting clients, which caused some of them to not come back. This includes an incident when a pregnant wife of a WBHL client threw up in the elevator.

Walsh said the woman refused to clean it up, but does not mention any specific conversation with the client or his wife. Boston said in her response that after the client told Walsh what happened “she became ‘enraged,’ yelling in his face.” Boston said the client, a Navajo man who suffers from PTSD, said he wouldn’t come back because of how Walsh allegedly treated them.

Another incident Boston cites is from Nov. 17, 2021, when a Native American client who experiences homelessness, mental health and addiction issues came to the WBHL to smudge and went to use the bathroom on the second floor.

Boston said the man came up about 25 minutes later and told her that he started having a seizure while in the bathroom, when a ‘red-haired lady’ who Boston presumed to be Walsh came into the bathroom “at least six different times, telling him to ‘hurry up,’ and ‘you can’t just sit on my warm toilet.’”

The client reportedly told Boston that even after he told Walsh he was having a seizure, she told him to leave the bathroom. She said Walsh called her after and told her a homeless man was in the bathroom for “way too long” and that she didn’t believe he had anything medical going on.

This complaint was on the log Boston kept of all the times she felt discriminated against, and neither Walsh nor Byrnes have seen this log to respond to it, according to Byrnes.

On this same log, there is a complaint from Nov. 23 that Walsh called Boston and allegedly told her “I can’t do this with these people,” and that “these people” were “making messes and sitting on her warm toilet.”

The log reports the next day in a meeting, Walsh apologized for “using the verbiage ‘these people.’”

Boston said that instances like the ones mentioned above prove that Walsh has biases against WBHL’s clients because they are homeless, mentally ill, and/or Native American.

She said she believes this also because there have been times when she and other WBHL staff members witnessed clients from other offices making disruptions, some of which she has video documentation of, but that Walsh thinks there should be “grace given for that,” because the offices in the BDC serve many homeless and mentally ill people, and outbursts are to be expected.

Boston said that although she gives grace to these other clients, she feels hers are singled out. Furthermore, she said, there have been instances where there were strong smells coming from other offices that did not get the same level of scrutiny as WBHL, and that WBHL was the only office in the building required to post a sign of its hours of operation or a sign notifying when they weren’t in the office, which no other offices in the building are required to do.

Byrnes said this is because there are no other drop-in centers in the building, and that Boston’s is the only office where people don’t need to make appointments to come in, so when Boston and other WBHL staff weren’t in the office, people were looking for her and trying to get into the WBHL office.

Boston didn’t vacate her office within the 30 days required in the eviction notice, which caused the county attorney to file a formal eviction in court.

The eviction was signed by a judge on May 20, 2021, and served to Boston June 1, according to Boston’s attorney, Greg Worcester.

Boston said the WBHL found another space to lease, but it is over twice as much as the rent at the BDC, which was $325 a month.

Because the WBHL is entirely grant-funded by $100,000 a year, Boston said they will have to fundraise and look to in-kind funds to be able to make rent and fund the center’s services.

Boston is passionate about WBHL’s mission, saying she knows it’s helping people because it went from having nine people the first month in October, to 103 people in May.

She said she received a call from her contact at the Montana Board of Behavioral Health who told her Walsh allegedly filed a human rights complaint with the state’s behavioral health board for misappropriation of funds, hiring of family and not following the terms of the contract for funding.

Boston said there aren’t any funds to misappropriate, and sometimes she doesn’t even get to pay herself. She also said she has followed the terms of the contract for funding. In regards to hiring family, one of the peer supporters, Makenzie Stokes, is her daughter, but Boston wasn’t aware that violated any rules.

Byrnes said to her knowledge, no such complaints have been made.

Complaints made to the Behavioral Health Board are confidential except to the complainant or complainee, so the Standard could not verify with the board if the complaints had been made.

Boston said after she received the first eviction notice, she talked to Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive J.P. Gallagher.

“He was very kind,” Boston said, “However, he said, ‘You’re running into what we usually run into: nobody wants this in their backyard.’”

Gallagher denied this and said because Boston had a lawyer at the time, he couldn’t discuss the case with her because it had to go through the county attorney.

“The only difference I’m seeing between [us and] the other tenants seeing individuals who have mental illnesses and experience homelessness is the majority of our clientele is Native.”

-Mandi Boston, Executive Director of the White Buffalo Healing Lodge


“There is no discrimination going on.”

-Karen Byrnes, Butte-Butte Silver Bow Community Development Director