Editor's Note

Reasons for homelessness vary. The homeless are the working poor, veterans, the mentally ill, disabled and addicted. Some can't work; some can't find work; and some don't want a job.

In this first part of an occasional series, the, Chronicle will explore the challenges of homelessness in the Gallatin Valley.

Each morning Fred Smock and Patch Paquin wake up in small tents tucked among tall grass and trees outside Bozeman. The two men have been camping together in an idyllic spot with mountain views for several weeks.

They sleep outside regardless of the weather because they have no place else to go. They are homeless.

Smock came to Bozeman several months ago to get away from his meth-addicted wife, he said.

Paquin arrived just a few weeks ago and found Smock reading under a tree. He said he met Smock for a reason and that Smock would help him find his way around Bozeman to get the help he needed.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, nearly 730,000 beds in shelters, safe havens and transitional housing facilities nationwide were filled by people who had no other place to sleep in 2012.

That report showed 1,921 people filled Montana's temporary beds in 2012. Bozeman's Warming Center had 2,258 visits from 131 people during its 2011-2012 season.

Those numbers represent people who sought to sleep inside. They do not include Smock and Paquin, who camp out, or Robert Cravens and Harry Pennington, both in their 50s, who sleep in their vehicles, which they usually park at the 19th Avenue rest stop.

“Not everyone wants to get housing,” said Jennifer Collins, a homeless outreach coordinator who works for the Human Resources Development Council and Gallatin Mental Health Center.

On Wednesday, nearly a dozen people were at the center, using the computer, socializing, picking up mail or finding other services.

On average, about 300 people per month stop by the center, about a third of whom have mental health issues, said Jill Lohman, the center's program manager.

For those who can and want to work, life is challenging. Showers are rare –$5 at a campground (when it's open) or take your chances late at night at an outdoor shower in a city park. The drop-in center allows people to do laundry, but that requires hauling your clothes there by car (if you have one), on the bus or by bike.

And how do you apply for a job when you can't pay for a phone? What do you use as an address? Where do you keep your belongings and important documents if you have a job and don't have a vehicle to store them in?

“It's so time-consuming (to be homeless) because you have to haul all your stuff with you,” Collins said.

Here's a glimpse into Smock and Paquin's daily struggle to survive.

6:30 a.m. (often earlier): Smock and Paquin wake up in their tents. Sometimes Paquin uses his phone's alarm clock to wake him.

The two don't necessarily get up together, but they typically meet at the Wal-Mart McDonald's, which opens at 7 a.m. Their only vehicles are bicycles they got from the Bozeman Bike Kitchen.

If they have money, they get coffee and sometimes a muffin, but “they're expensive,” Smock says.

“We usually wait until dinner” to eat. The Community Café, which provides free dinners to anyone, opens at 5 p.m.

On Sundays, they get a free midday meal from Collins. She and volunteers park a van on Oak Street near Wal-Mart and dole out plates of food to anyone who comes over.

Smock, 49, quit his job with an irrigation company because he said the owner wasn't paying what he'd promised and was taking advantage of him. He has no income apart from $200 in food stamps, which are gone by the end of the month. He's looking for work.

Paquin, 52, has a host of disorders — bipolar, post-traumatic stress, dissociative identity and attention deficit hyperactive. He also has degenerative disks in his back and, “I pass kidney stones like an oyster makes pearls,” he adds.

“I can't hold a job,” he said. “I am 100 percent disabled.”

Paquin receives Social Security disability benefits (he declined to say how much), which are deposited monthly into his bank account. But by Tuesday, he had a total of $3.22 left, he said, turning his laptop to show off his account balance.

“Doesn't that suck?” he says.

Paquin plugs his computer into the wall at the McDonald's booth where he sits for hours using the free Wi-Fi to download movies and games.

Across the table, Smock reads one of his dozens of library books. He got his library card using the Gallatin Mental Health Drop-In Center's mailing address.

10:30 a.m.: Smock loads up his backpack and unlocks his and Paquin's bikes outside Wal-Mart, leaving Paquin's bike vulnerable to theft. Paquin decides to stay at Wal-Mart.

Smock heads off to fill out job applications at the Bozeman Public Library, where he borrows a laptop and sits down at a desk.

He pulls out a thumb drive and some documents double-wrapped in plastic bags to protect them from the elements. Using an address he scrawled on a scrap of paper, he pulls up the Bozeman Deaconess Hospital website and begins filling out an application for a night shift job as an “environmental services worker.”

He pulls up his resumes from the thumb drive to update his mailing address and phone number. But there's a problem.

He has a phone and a phone number, but Smock is out of minutes and doesn't have $25 to turn the phone back on. He worries about how a potential employer will contact him.

12:30 p.m.: Smock only has time to fill out one application then pedals back to Wal-Mart to collect Paquin before heading to the Gallatin Valley Food Bank.

1 p.m.: Paquin doesn't go to the food bank, saying maybe he'll get a ride from Collins when she makes the weekly food bank run from the drop-in center.

Smock is 20th in line to apply for and then shop at the food bank on the northeast side of Bozeman. He's frustrated because he got there late and has to wait.

Sitting just outside the entrance to the shopping area, he watches others snatch up gallons of whole milk, hoping that at least one remains by the time his number is called.

“I haven't had real milk for at least three months,” Smock says. “At least three months.”

A food bank worker calls his number, looks over his application and hands him a yellow, laminated card telling him what his quotas are.

Smock waits for the area to clear and a cart to become available.

He picks a container of orange juice, two bags of cereal, some fresh zucchini and peppers, a small bag of dried apricots, peanut butter, canned tuna and sardines, a few cans of soup and giant cans of freeze-dried scrambled eggs and bacon, beef stroganoff and chicken stew. He kisses a gallon of milk as he pulls it from the cooler.

He doesn't take any pasta because, though he has a small propane stove, he doesn't have a pot or pan large enough to cook it in.

He looks over a plethora of baked goods. He takes down one package and puts it back, having trouble making up his mind. He settles on a package of muffins and bag of sugar-frosted doughnuts, saying, “That'll go great with the milk.”

In another cooler, Smock finds a package of mushrooms and a large container of fresh, cut-up fruit.

“Oh man,” he says, clearly giddy for the once-monthly food bank visit.

2 p.m.: Volunteers help Smock load his food into a cardboard box. He straps it to his bike and heads out to the campsite.

He can barely contain himself and digs ravenously for the milk. Finally, Smock finds what he's looking for. He takes big slurps of milk from the container.

“This right here is a luxury,” he says.

“Oh man,” Smock says, coming across the package of sliced mushrooms. He rips it open and eats a few.

Inside his tent, which he got from a local church, Smock shows how he has everything well-organized including a stack of about 20 books. The tent and tarp over it keep him and his belongings dry, though it's not long enough for his 6-foot frame.

He sleeps “scrunched up,” he says.

3:45 p.m.: Smock heads back to Wal-Mart to find Paquin, who is outside under an overhang near the store's entrance. The weather has begun to turn wet.

Paquin stands in a corner, his computer propped on the child's seat of a cart.

He says he met a lady who said she'd help him out with money for a better tent and some other things, which she makes good on later that day.

“I'm a total believer in the law of attraction,” Paquin says of the people he meets who help him out.

5 p.m.: His food stowed, Smock gets to the Community Café.

The lady from a local church, who bought Paquin the tent, also bought both men some gloves. She also bought Paquin some food, which he offered to share with Smock.

The Community Café is an old restaurant, and visitors are treated like restaurant patrons. It's a far cry from the soup kitchens Smock went to in other places.

People sit at tables or booths and are served hearty meals by volunteers.

On Tuesday, diners had a choice of mushroom-barley soup and salad or an Asian stir-fry with rice. Skim milk and water are also brought to the table, and a large bottle of hot sauce makes the rounds from table to table.

It has a comfortable atmosphere with families, couples and singles sharing a quiet meal.

“When I first came in here, I thought I was in the wrong place,” Smock says. “It feels homey and welcoming. It's not like you're looked down on.”

6 p.m.: Though he'd originally planned to go to the Bozeman Bike Kitchen to volunteer, Smock decides instead to go collect Paquin and help him set up his new tent and reorganize their camp.

Smock hopes to find a way to level off his own tent so he isn't sleeping on an uncomfortable hill.

If they weren't going right back to their camp, the two might instead go to the East Gallatin Recreation Area and hang out under a pavilion, where there's also an outlet for Paquin's computer. One recent night, they watched “Pirates of the Caribbean” there until a police officer let them know it was 11 p.m. and the park was closed.

Jodi Hausen can be reached at jhausen@dailychronicle.com or 582-2630. Follow her on Twitter @JodiHausen or on Facebook at Jodi Hausen, journalist.

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