By VIRGINIA HOLST/Montana State News

There are on average 100 homeless people in Bozeman on any given day, according to the Human Resource Development Council, a local nonprofit that provides services for the homeless.

Especially in the harsh winter months, the concerns of the homeless include decreased access to transportation, and even simple health concerns, such as foot rot.

Verna, a member of Bozeman’s homeless population, describes her struggles in the harsh weather as she attempts to maneuver Bozeman in a wheelchair, saying, “I can’t get around at all.” This is not just an issue for Verna, but for anyone without a warm home to come back to at the end of the day.

One resource which Verna and many others utilize is the Warming Center, which is a seasonal shelter for the homeless operated by the HRDC. It is completely community funded, and largely organized and run by volunteers.

Some areas of the city are easily accessible to the homeless population, including the library and main street; however, other vital resources are difficult to reach. For example, the Warming Center is out of walking distance for those with physical limitations. Even public transportation can be difficult for some, such as Verna, who described how the city busses’ wheelchair ramps do not extend beyond the snow banks created due to plowing.

The snow-packed sidewalks can also be an issue, especially to those with difficulty getting around. Even when the sidewalks are clear, moisture can seep through and cause foot infections in many of the homeless. This sparked the idea of the Warming Center’s “sock exchange,” where they can bring in their wet socks to be cleaned, and in the meantime, wear a new, dry pair.

The HRDC also provides energy assistance, financial counseling, transportation services, volunteer opportunities, and food security. But, Verna says that the community itself can also help the homeless by keeping the sidewalks clean.

– edited by Tyler Barton

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