BILLINGS — Living without shelter is hard enough without frigid temperatures. Organizations like the Billings First Congregational United Church of Christ and Gratitude in Action have made it their mission to help homeless folks during the winter season.
“The Continuum of Care, which is this wonderful collaborative of providers, came together, and they were able to fund with the housing authority a hotel for emergency sheltering,” said Senior Pastor Lisa Harmon of First Congregational Church.
That cold weather shelter, Off the Streets, at the former Western Inn on Second Avenue North had to close because of a sewage leak, and First Congregational United decided to fill the gap.
“This space is a gathering space, and since Dec. 30, it has been the emergency overflow shelter for the Crisis Center,” Harmon said.
They give pillows and mats to homeless residents for the night, providing them with a warm place to stay.
“Since Dec. 30 we have had and hosted 1,920 night stays here in this space,” said Harmon.
The church has seen more homeless people than usual since the temperatures have dropped.
“We can have up to 40 people on a given night and so when it’s really cold like it’s been this week, you’ll see 40 people,” Harmon said.
Members of the congregation also do what they can.
“Lots of folks donating water and granola bars, and blankets. I just had three beautiful blankets dropped off yesterday,” said Harmon.
Back in 2019, the church partnered with the Crisis Center to create the program My Backyard.
“When the temperature dipped below 32 degrees, the crisis center would receive people and they would help people, they would assess people, and they would shuttle people to the church,” Harmon said.
Locally run second-hand store Gratitude in Action does its best to help the homeless community as well.
The store takes donated wool, which is then made into gloves, and hands them out to people in need.
“We’ve gone through 250, 300 pairs of gloves this week,” said the founder of Gratitude in Action, Terri Todd.
They’ve given out tons of hats, blankets, and even space heaters.
“We collected lots and lots of coats and we’ve been able to give those back out,” Todd said.
They even refurbish donated bicycles to give to homeless folks without transportation.
“It’s kind of a place where people can start over again,” said Todd.