Friday is the winter solstice, marking the first day of winter and the longest night of the year. In communities across Montana, there’s also a tradition of honoring homeless persons who have died on the solstice.
Monica Lindeen is the executive director of the YWCA in Helena. She says taking the time to pause and reflect while standing out in the cold can be a good reminder of the challenges Montana’s homeless face.
"While we stand only for a few minutes, there are many who spend every night out in the cold," says Lindeen.
YWCA Helena will be holding a memorial service Friday at noon in Women’s Park. Governor Steve Bullock will be there to read the names of the homeless who died in 2018.
Lindeen says Helena, like many communities in the state, has a larger homeless population than many people realize, and that a large number of them are women and minors.
A survey last year found that of Montana’s roughly 1,600 homeless, a third were people with children, and over 100 were unaccompanied homeless youth.
Lindeen says while a lot of efforts go into helping the homeless, there is still a greater demand than many organizations can provide.
"We need a larger women’s and family shelter here in Helena," says Lindeen.
Billings has the highest homeless population in the state, over 430 people.
Yellowstone Public Radio's Kay Erickson reports that according to Clarence Salley, who works with the homeless for Riverstone Healthcare, at least one homeless person a month passes away in the Billings area.
In Billings, Riverstone Health will hold a candlelight vigil at the Yellowstone County Courthouse at 12:15pm on Friday.
In Missoula, a memorial vigil will be held Friday evening at 5:30pm outside the Missoula County Courthouse.