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Homeless in Billings thankful for Off The Streets shelter

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Posted at 11:15 PM, Feb 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 10:48:40-05

This past fall, about 40 organizations converted an old hotel into the Off The Streets Shelter.

This week it has provided a place to stay during subzero temperatures.

Craig Barthel, site director welcomes men and women going through homelessness to the shelter.

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"It's like the old Cheers show, Norm," Barthel said about knowing names of those at the shelter. "We all know each other on a first name basis so even the staff here have made it a point to remember their names to memorize those names and to use those names. The homeless really pick up on that. When somebody remembers your first and last name, all of a sudden you feel important. Just like we're at a five star hotel, we're greeting them that well, and in welcoming them into the property and saying hey whatever you need. Let us know. We'll make sure that you're stay here tonight is a good one."

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Craig Barthel

"Oh, he's got a lot of compassion," Karlos Vitale who is homeless said about Barthel. "Like, there's those of us with no hats, no gloves, no coats. Nothing. He's willing to open up his doors for all of us."

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Photo Credit: KTVQ

"He's a very caring man and what he's doing is amazing," said Ruth Onyett, who is staying at the shelter. "And he treats you like you're a human being and you deserve and you're worthy."

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Photo Credit: KTVQ

Onyett has been homeless since November.

"We check in, and they give us everything we need," she said. "They give us the room that we're assigned to. And then we go to bed, you know, take a shower."

Bartel said that help each night is the big goal of getting people out of homelessness.

"After you've had a good night's sleep and you're feeling refreshed in the morning, let's talk about what are your goals and how do we help you. How do we help you achieve those goals to really get you off the streets permanently?"

And those staying at the shelter appreciate the help.

"It'd be a real struggle and struggle is really real out here in Billings," Vitale said. "If it wasn't for this place, I'd have nowhere to go."

"It keeps a lot of people from freezing to death on the street," Onyett said.

"They feel maybe abandoned," said Barthel. "And so we talk about, they're not abandoned, not by God and not by us, and so we just try to lift them up."

"Because I'm homeless doesn't mean I'm a bad person," Onyett siad. "I do try to have a strong faith you know, and have hope that you know that there is a better day for me, a better tomorrow."

Barthel said many help with the shelter and the programs through the Continuum of Care.

He said the group estimates there are about 1,000 people dealing with homelessness in Billings and about 200 still remain on the streets in need of help.