BILLINGS — Billings’ homeless population is growing - almost exponentially, according to the Yellowstone County Continuum of Care.
From April to June 2022, the continuum classified 765 unique individuals as "literally homeless" - those who don’t know if they’ll have a habitable bed that night. It’s a crisis healthcare workers see every day.
"It becomes overwhelming when we inventory belongings and in the middle of winter, it’s a pair of sweats and a t-shirt," said Billings Clinic psychiatric care nurse Taylor Gayvert.
Three years ago, Gayvert and co-worker Shyla Schlueter watched another patient leave Billings Clinic, fully unprepared for what was beyond the doors.
"Just scrubs on, nothing else," Schlueter said.
The two decided then that they had to do something about it.
"When you look at homelessness, your mind automatically goes to providing a place, a home," Gayvert said. "But in order to get to that, we have to start at the bottom."
Their solution? They’d put together backpacks of supplies, necessities like warm clothes, toiletries, even food. That all costs money.
"Our friends and family blew us out of the water," Gayvert said.
The group was able to give out 50 backpacks one day late in 2020 - a day they’ll never forget.
“We ended up seeing two kids outside of (Billings homeless shelter) Tumbleweed," Gayvert said of a specific memory. "We got them a coffee and a sleeping bag, and they both started crying, and it took 10 minutes out of our day."
"These are people who have nothing to give back," Schlueter said. "They say thank you, and to me and Taylor and the group, that means the world."
Now in their third year, the group is thinking bigger.
"Our friends and family can’t fund this for the rest of time," Gayvert laughed.
They’ve set up Amazon wish lists people can use that will ship directly to them. You can also send monetary donations to Gayvert's Venmo account: Taylor-Becker-12.
If you choose to help, know that Gayvert and Schlueter are the faces recipients will see.
"We could partner with other programs where they hand the backpacks out," Schlueter said, "but we like doing it ourselves because those are our people."
"I think there’s a lot of negativity surrounding those who are homeless and mentality ill," Gayvert added. "It’s near and dear to our hearts. Something as simple as a backpack filled with a couple things, it really meant a lot.”
If you start at the bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.