HELENA — Tucked between the trees in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest off of Oro Fino Gulch Drive is a camp. It’s a collection of tents just outside Helena city limits, and for some people, it’s a safe haven, and all they have.
“I had nothing,” camp resident Nicholas Kudlicka said. “I was lucky, fortunate—God graced me with this unit, I think.”
Kudlicka is a US Navy veteran. He said he’s struggled with his mental health and homelessness. He said he is now on medication and waiting for a place to open for him at the Guardian Apartments in Helena.
Kudlicka was brought to the camp after another resident found him asleep on the side of the road.
“I’m too damn old to be on the street,” Kudlicka. “My health is failing, I’m not as strong as I used to be. I can’t endure the cold nights.”
Tansen Fayant is another resident of the camp. She said she has struggled with drug addiction, and this camp is the only place she could find shelter.
“I had nowhere to go,” Fayant said. “No one will house me due to my lengthy criminal history and my addiction and mental illness.”
Other residents of the camp MTN spoke with explained that they have the funds for housing, but due to the very competitive housing market and background checks, they haven't been able to find any housing that will take them.
Now, Fayant said she is more than 50 days sober—something that would not be possible without the camp and support of its residents. If not for the camp, Fayant said she “would be on the street using.”
Paul Montee, better known as Rad, started the camp for people just like Kudlicka and Fayant.
“What I’m trying to provide is a safe, stable place that people can get back into life,” Rad said.
Rad knows how important a place like this is. He has dealt with alcohol addiction.
“Something needed to be done,” Rad said. “I’d be dead if I hadn’t stopped drinking.”
There are only a few rules Rad requires to stay at the camp. Firstly and most importantly, no unprescribed drugs or alcohol. While getting ready for our interviews on camera, Rad was talking with a man who wanted to stay there with them. Rad explained the rule about drugs and alcohol and the man pulled a baggie out of his pocket and gave it over, which Rad promptly destroyed.
Speaking with people staying at the camp, they said drug dealers often prey on people facing homelessness. Being a clean camp, it gives many a chance to get away from bad influences and get their lives in order.
If people can’t abide by that rule, Rad said they can’t live in the camp.
“I’m a freaking tyrant, that’s the only way this is going to work, that’s the only way,” Rad said, explaining he has kicked people out for not following that rule.
Camp residents also pitch in to help keep the site clean, support each other to stay on track with recovery efforts and work to find direction in their lives. Residents help each other get to appointments, pick up prescriptions and food, go to the library and attend church. Many in the camp have jobs or are looking at ways to move forward with their lives.
“I just started filling out my FAFSA again,” Fayant said. “I want to go back to school.”
While waiting for an apartment to open for him, Kudlicka has created a space he is proud of at the camp. Although temporary, he said he is safe and comfortable here.
“As you can see, I’m doing quite well,” Kudlicka said. “I think my unit is the finest, I think I did the best job.”