Even though we are now luxuriating in practically subtropical 20-degree temperatures, we cannot forget the quiet heroes who have saved lives in Billings over the past couple of frigid weeks.
The Off the Streets Community Shelter, along with the Community Crisis Center, the Montana Rescue Mission, the entire Yellowstone County Continuum of Care Coalition, and the volunteers who make those organizations work are providing this community an amazing service.
"When it's cold out like this, it feels good to serve a large number," says Off the Streets' Craig Barthel. That number at the low-barrier shelter he runs at the former Western Inn Motel soared to 50 or more as the temperatures plunged. And the love and compassion he clearly feels for the people he helps is a blessing beyond price.
Off the Streets was created by the Continuum of Care Coalition and operates as a "last resort" shelter for those who are homeless and can't be served immediately by other Billings shelters.
Similarly, Montana Rescue Mission's Matt Lundgren shifted the Mission into emergency mode last week, dropping barriers to entry during the cold.
"We're taking everyone that comes to our door," Lundgren said. "We've got plenty of space, plenty of warm food, plenty of warm beds."
The Crisis Center, too, serves those in immediate need — struggling with mental health or intoxication issues — and gives them a 24-hour place to be. There, people are required to meet with a counselor and can gain a case officer to work with regularly.
We are in awe of this work, done without expectation of any recompense. It is a perfect example of what a special place this is. Billings has a big heart and it beats, warm and strong, for the people — all people — who need help when the cold makes being on the street a deadly predicament.
The Billings Gazette Editorial Board consists of President and Publisher Dave Worstell, Regional Editor David McCumber and Chief Photographer Larry Mayer.