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Gordon's life outside: Surviving Montana's winters on the street - KTVQ.com | Q2 | Continuous News Coverage | Billings, MT

Gordon's life outside: Surviving Montana's winters on the streets

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Gordon has lived outside for the past 3 years (MTN News) Gordon has lived outside for the past 3 years (MTN News)
BILLINGS -

Montana has a reputation of grueling winters, where temperatures frequently dip below zero and snow fall is relentless.

But the cold weather is no match for Gordon Harris, 61, who chooses to live outside.

He takes a 7-minute walk each day to his home on the side of the Billings Rimrocks.

“To me, it’s just normal,” said Harris.

Harris lives under a rock that’s covered by a blanket and keeps a collection of toiletries close by.

“It’s just not bad because we got 30 below sleeping bags,” said Harris. “It takes you about 10 to 15 minutes to get warm.”

Gordon has lived outside for about three years ever since he was evicted from his South Side apartment.

He said he could have found a new place to live, but Gordon doesn’t like rules.

“I’m 61, I don’t need to be treated like a baby,” said Harris.

He just celebrated another year of life, one that is markedly different from the people he sees drive by below.

Gordon didn’t always live this way. He said he raised a family and worked a government job.

“I worked for Yellowstone National Park in ’72 and I did a lot of camping down in the canyon,” said Harris.

He has worked a lot of odd jobs over the years, from scrubbing cigarette smoke off walls to operating rides at the fair. Gordon admitted that sometimes he resorts to panhandling.

“I don’t drink and I don’t do drugs,” said Harris. “I drink coffee and smoke cigarettes. That’s the only drug I got is cigarettes.”

Harris is one of about a dozen nomads known to Pastor Glenn Fournier, who operates the Montana Rescue Mission.

“Gordon has never caused a problem,” said Fournier. “He’s a likable guy, and a good story teller. We tried to extend services as much as we could to him but he’s one of those people who like to be on his own.”

Fournier has recently developed an outreach program where he and an MRM employee hit the streets in search of homeless people when the temperatures drop.

“Montana has always been difficult in the winter time. It’s tough to survive,” said Fournier.

Billings recorded several nights in December with negative temperatures.

On those cold nights, Fournier loads up the van with hand warmers and sandwiches and recruits outsiders to come indoors.

Fournier does provide supplies to people who live outside on a case-specific basis, but he prefers to bring them back to the Mission.

“The more we give them, the longer they stay out. And the more they’re out, I can’t help them,” said Fournier.

“[The MRM] is where my resources are and my staff is. Everything that we can provide for them is here. So the idea is to go out and get them and try to convince them to come back,” Fournier said.

On Jan. 26, Fournier successfully convinced seven people to come back to the Mission.

One man, who said he was from Guatemala, could not speak English and had trouble understanding the invitation but eventually agreed to go with Fournier.

Some are slaves to addiction, many struggle with mental illness, and others are far from home.

“[The MRM] is a magnet for broken people. This is what we do so they come here and they’re looking for an answer, looking for something,” said Fournier.

Fournier said many don’t know what they are looking for, but he hopes to help them figure it out through counseling, addiction, and mental health services at the MRM.

While Gordon claims he’s happy with his life outside the fray, even he admits dreams of building a home to call his own.

“I’m gonna build two of them,” said Harris.

The journey ahead will be challenging, so long as Harris continues to live outside.

He said he’s experienced pneumonia at least once a winter, and his diet consists mainly of the fast food dinners he can afford with spare change.

“Coffee, that’s what keeps me going,” said Harris. “That’s all I need.”

To really understand Gordon’s life, you’d have to walk a mile in his shoes.

“I do a lot of walking,” said Harris. “I go through a pair of shoes every month.”

It’s with Gordon in mind that Fournier continues working to make a difference, even if it’s just one baby step at a time.

If you would like to help, you can donate boots, coats, blankets, sleeping bags, food, or money to the MRM.

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