HAMILTON — Right off of Sleeping Child Road in Hamilton, there is a little yellow church that is making a big difference this winter.
The mission of the Bitterroot Warming Center is to never let another person go without warmth in these cold temperatures.
It's a mission that comes after a tragedy. A man experiencing homelessness in the Bitterroot — who was well-known in the community — died from hyperthermia on Nov. 3 while on his way to find warmth.
“And so 15°, he was standing there," said the center's organizer Gary Locke. "We didn't have a warming center in the Bitterroot, so he tried to make it to Missoula and got as far as Victor."
Homeless in a small town
I am homeless but have done nothing wrong
Bills were paid on time, and our yard was vibrant with freshly planted flowers
The smell from our BBQ and sounds of children filled our home
I am homeless because the owner sold our home
We packed all our furnishing and watched our children choose smaller toys to keep out of storage
You see me at the grocery store, and we make small talk in the checking line
I walked away feeling a relief that for one more day no one knew I was homeless.
We have mastered washing up in gas stations, taking more time than you, to make sure we have gone the extra mile to not look homeless
I drive down the same roads as you when we both pick up our kids from school
My wife pours over the paper praying to find a new place to rent
This routine leads to daily tears, I sadly watch them roll down her beautiful face
When the sun starts to set, we drive around to find a safe place to park
I place light blankets in our windows as my wife locks all the doors
With thick blankets wrapped tightly around us, I silently pray we can sleep through the night
For 6 hours a day, my children are the same as yours. They play on the playground releasing all the stresses that plague them at home
No one knows we are homeless.
We have had the same jobs for years and our children always manage to adore a smile on their face
We hope to find a hotel room for a night or two.
The thought of feeling a soft bed to stretch out on, a bathroom just a couple of steps away, and the calming feeling of the warmth from our shower seems so far out of reach
We call around to each local motel
Praying that we will get to experience this luxury for just a night or two
The words seem to flow so freely from their mouths, we have no vacancies for the next few weeks
It will be another night of finding a safe place to park
We look for a semi lighted space for us to feel safe,
We must be out of the sight of others so we can avoid the midnight knock saying we have to leave again
I am still homeless in a small town
It is in cold times like these, where the power of community shines through. “Our common goal is to help people and so those people come out of the woodwork when things like this happen,” center volunteer Rande Luitjens told MTN News.
The result? A place where everyone is welcome to stay warm this winter. The Bitterroot Warming Center is open until April 1 with 20 cots available between 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. for people who need a warm place to sleep during the winter months.
Inside of the warming center, there were three areas; for women, families and men, each complete with their own cots and sleeping bag. Toiletries, food, shoes, extra clothes and more blankets are also available.
“We just do whatever we got to do to try to keep people going, and then this time of the year of course to keep them warm," said Locke.
If you would like to donate you can go to the warming center's website at https://www.bitterrootfamilyshelter.com/, or drop items off at the Sleepy Child Church.