The Warming Center provides shelter to Bozeman’s homeless community

It’s the dead of winter, and a Bozeman man is chilled to the bone from the biting December winds. He yearns for a warm house and a steaming cup of hot cocoa but unfortunately has no place to call home. Instead, he is forced to crawl into the back of an open U-Haul truck to shield himself from the bitter cold. Slowly, he freezes to death, and his body is found the next morning.

This tragic story, which occurred in Bozeman during the winter of 2007, prompted the Human Resource Development Council (HRDC) to open a seasonal shelter called The Warming Center. This year is their sixth season in operation. The center is open seven days a week from 7 p.m. – 7 a.m. and is free for patrons. The shelter provides comfortable sleeping arrangements as well as hot showers. Everyone in need is encouraged to stay. “Trained professionals make sure every person is safe and comfortable. We dedicate ourselves to getting everyone back on track to being a safe member of our community,” Housing Director Sara Savage said.

Though the Warming Center would ideally stay open year round, the major lack of funding makes it a struggle to keep the doors open even seasonally. The center costs roughly $120,000 a year to operate; that is $25 per person, per night. The center is funded entirely by community donations and when the cost of funding is not met, the center has no choice but to close early. “The ability to keep our doors open is utterly dictated on funding each year,” Savage said. This winter, the Warming Center was excited to be able to open their doors earlier than usual on Nov. 1.

The number of people without homes is an increasing problem throughout America. Though Bozeman is progressing in the right direction, there is still a lot to be done. “Across the nation we are coming up with new ways to approach homelessness. From sober living to transitional housing, we need to put people directly into housing as soon as possible. It is important to understand that every challenge is different so there need to be different options for people. These people are human beings. Hearing their story shows you just how unique each and every one of them are,” Savage passionately expressed. The Warming Center has seen over 170 guests since the beginning of November and they expect to see many more.

Prior to the Warming Center’s opening in response to the U-haul incident, there were no resources available for Bozeman’s homeless community. “The event woke up our community. These are our neighbors, we need to make sure our people are protected,” Savage said. Though the Warming Center and other available resources such as the Battered Woman’s Shelter and The Family Promise of Gallatin Valley are helpful assets to Bozeman, these alone will not end homelessness. “The most pressing issue in Bozeman is the amount of time it is taking our neighbors to get into affordable housing. With so few units available, and prices rising, the struggle becomes difficult. Being homeless, there are strikes against you making it much harder to compete for housing,” Savage said.

After the Warming Center opened their doors in 2010, many MSU students have used it as a resource. According to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), there are more than 58,000 homeless college students registered in the US. “If you are lost or confused this is a great place to start. Our staff are kind and empathetic, we are here to listen and to help,” Savage said. Other MSU students can get involved by volunteering. “Time is the best gift students can give. Volunteering offers an incredible opportunity to understand the face of homelessness and learn their stories. Not everyone has a long beard and a cardboard sign, just like our community, homelessness come in all shapes and sizes. Homelessness is very isolating, giving up your time to help means so much to our guests, you give them a new sense of hope,” Savage said.

According to Savage, the long term goals for the Warming Center are “not for me to answer.” She went on to say that, “This is a community effort, we cannot do it on our own. I am excited to start a community conversation on how we all feel and what we think an appropriate response is.”

For more information, visit thehrdc.org or contact Robin Mayer at (406)-585-4853, rmayer@thehrdc.org