Waiting for the Warming Center

Below is a story of the interaction between one of our staff and a man in need of a warm, safe place to sleep. 

We had just finished loading the furniture into the family’s truck when a man approached.  He was dressed in a light weight jacket and carried only a backpack. Our eyes met and my heart sank, knowing what he was going to ask me.  He introduced himself as Ben and asked if this was the Warming Center.  I told him it was, but that unfortunately, we were not yet open.  I explained that I was only there to move some furniture out of storage.  He nodded his head, smiled and began to walk away.  I explained that staff and volunteers were being trained and that we are raising money to open as soon as possible.   Politely, he said he understood.  I asked him if he had a place to stay.  He looked at the ground and shook his head no.  I felt helpless standing in front of the Warming Center and unable to offer Ben a warm, safe place to sleep.

I offered him blankets and a bed roll but he declined, saying that a local hotel was holding his luggage and he didn’t think they would hold anything else.  I told him about our Food Bank, our Café and Streamline.  He thanked me for the information.  I also told him about our Housing First Program and suggested he come see us in the morning.  He shook my hand and thanked me for helping him.  He thanked me!   I felt like I had done nothing, had nothing to offer.  As he walked away I turned back to the family I was helping – they had heard our conversation and the mood was now somber.  We quietly finished loading their truck.

As I drove home, I realized I could have given him the few dollars I had.  He was nowhere to be found.  As I pulled into the HRDC parking lot the next morning, there was Ben walking up the street.  We walked in together and I gave him coffee and granola bars – finally something tangible I could offer.  Kimberly, our Service Navigator, would be able to see him soon.  Until then, we sat together and he told me his story.  Everyone has a story. Often it is bad luck, tragedy, illness or abuse that brings our guests to the Warming Center.    Ben had recently been employed full time in Yellowstone National Park, but the Government shut down left him without a job and the housing that came along with it.  Ben headed to Bozeman with his savings certain he could quickly find employment and housing.   Staying in a hotel quickly drained his money, and finding a job was proving to be difficult.  Ben had moved to Yellowstone from the East Coast following a separation from his wife.  They had lost a child, a baby boy, and grief had overwhelmed him.  Much of his earnings had been sent back East to help his wife.  He told me he had been homeless for just a few days and how difficult it was.  He was sleeping in an abandoned building.  We talked about the possible timing of when the Warming Center might open and how it was contingent upon community donations.  I knew Ben was wondering what he was going to do until then.
Kimberly met with Ben.  Together they are working on a plan for employment and housing – but without the availability of the Warming Center, there is no guarantee that Ben will be warm and safe tonight.
Last season, the Warming Center provided a safe, warm place to spend the night to more than 130 different people, varying in age from toddlers to senior citizens.  The Warming Center relocated mid-season last year to its current location at 2104 Industrial Drive to accommodate more people in need of shelter.  Last year, we saw an increase in the number of homeless families and women without housing. In fact, one out of every five Warming Center guests was female.  Most guests are only experienced only a brief period of homelessness and used the center for about two weeks.  The Warming Center staff works closely with guests to help them secure sustainable long-term housing by assisting with housing and employment searches, building resumes, and providing one-on-one guidance.
Funding for the Warming Center is 100% community driven.  With an annual operating budget of around $90,000 to cover rent, utility costs and staffing, funds must be raised prior to opening.   This season a goal of $50,000 was set in order to open the doors.  Thanks to the generosity of this community, the Warming Center will be open by November 15th!  To learn more about the Warming Center and how you can make a donation or volunteer please call 585-4877 or click here.