By EMMA HAMBURG/Montana State News

In the fall of 2010, the issue of homelessness drew the attention of the community after two homeless people died as a result of cold temperatures.  One found shelter in a U-Haul moving truck and the other camping just outside of city limits.  Both deaths could have been prevented by a safe, warm place to sleep.

Reaction to the deaths was swift.

The local non-profit HRDC (Human Resource Development Council) along with the Greater Gallatin Homeless Action Coalition found a space at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds and opened for the first season of the Warming Center.

The Warming Center provides seasonal shelter, October – March, and is open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. for people who are homeless.  The Center is administered by HRDC and is 100 percent funded by community and foundation support.

HRDC’s Warming Center served 58 individuals in the first season consisting of 3 months. Each year those numbers have increased with the 2015/16 season serving 253 individuals.  There were 4,891 shelter stays provided during the 2015/16 season.

The guests, who on average stay two weeks per season, were made up of a diverse group of individuals. One out of five are female and 13 percent were veterans. Of the total, 17 percent reported having not completed their High School education or GED. Three families with children under the age of 18 stayed. More than half of the guests were experiencing a disabling condition such as mental illness, substance abuse, or chronic health issues.  Thirty percent of the total lived in Gallatin County for over 10 years, while 63 were employed or on a fixed income.

Last season, 25 percent of guests were chronically homeless (homeless for more than one season). This number increased by 3 percent in the last year alone.  Community donations and volunteering help The Warming Center keeps its doors open.  It costs approximately $210,000 to operate the shelter for one season.  Last year, over 59 community members volunteered their time keeping operating costs at a minimum.  It is only because of the generosity and compassion of this community that the HRDC is able to keep our homeless neighbors warm and safe during the cold winter months.

– edited by Jackson Nolde

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