As the snow and cold temperatures settle into Billings, the city's ever growing homeless population becomes even more vulnerable.
Now local area shelters are answering the call to make sure they have a warm place to stay this winter.
And that includes those who are homeless in our community who seek out shelter at the Montana Rescue Mission, which provides meals a place to stay and guidance.
"When colder weather hits, we do tend to see more people come in," said Matt Lundgren, executive director at the rescue mission. "But during the pandemic, we've seen our numbers about 30% higher than we saw two years ago before the pandemic and so for whatever reason we're seeing more people who are experiencing homelessness come to us for help, and we're happy to provide that for them."
Lundgren says this time of year brings a need for winter clothing and part of that is collecting donations and cash for Christmas presents.
"That's one of the most heartwarming days of the year. For me to see people who literally have just the clothes on their back, receive a new outfit, receive a toy or receive a book, something that can give them dignity and hope," Lundgren said.
The Off The Streets Shelter can also use clothes, coffee and toiletries.
"Just by providing that clean shower, those clean clothes that warm, safe, dry place to stay overnight, I feel like we've given hope to people," said Kari Boiter, Continuum Of Care director. "And we've shown them they're worth it. And we reminded them what it's like to have that and it becomes something to strive for."
About 30 different groups make up the Continuum Of Care, which started the shelter more than a year ago, to help during COVID. And it has taken care of about 400 people.
"That's what gets lost, the longer you're on the streets, is the human experience," she said. "And the farther you travel down that path, the harder it is to remember what it was like to have housing what it was like to have medical care what it was like to have food in your belly."
Workers from both Off The Streets and the Montana rescuers find inspiration for success.
"It takes dedication from the people who do this work every day and never giving up on the dream that yes, we can eventually house everyone," Boiter said.
"Our faith calls on us to love others as we have been loved, to bless others as we've been blessed and so this time of year," Lundgren said. "We're especially thankful to be a blessing to people. With the Christmas spirit in the air, the community of Billings has been so generous."