Today I met a new friend. As I entered the locker room of my local downtown gym for my lunch-hour workout, I was greeted by a friendly, “Hi!” I unpacked my gym bag while she began telling me how grateful she was to have had this shower at the gym today. She said she had stayed at the Warming Center’s overflow location, a church, last night where there is only one shower and she didn’t get one.

She chose to pay $10 to take a shower here today. I told her I was really glad she had a warm place to stay last night. She went on to tell me that she is in between places right now, and that she hoped to hear from a friend today, who may let her stay with him. She checked her phone to see if he had called. I told her that I work for the same agency that runs the Warming Center, assisting households with their heating bills. Her face lit up, and she said, “Well, maybe I’ll be seeing you soon!” imagining a future when she would have her own place and even a heat bill. It was then that I noticed the garbage bag sitting next to her, holding all of her belongings. All of her belongings.

Today I encountered warmth, honesty and connection with a new friend who happens to be struggling right now. I felt no fear. She was like me. Some may think that the individuals who need the services of the Warming Center are not in our midst and we can (and should) keep them separated from “us” and from our children. I challenge my fellow Bozemanites to have an open mind. Offer kindness and compassion to all in our community who are experiencing homelessness.

Robin Johnson