Homelessness in Gillette
A woman finds joy in the form of warmth and shelter at the Council of Community Services patio Feb. 5. Photo by Adam D. Ritterbush.
As a boy growing up in Gillette during the 70s, Keith remembers watching the homeless shelter being built and thinking it was a waste of time and money.
“There are no homeless people in Wyoming,” he’d told his friends. “Why build one here?”
That he now finds himself staying there decades later is an irony not lost on him. Like many others at the shelter that night, his life had pretty much bottomed out.
It started a year-and-a-half ago, he said, when his mother passed away, and he was tasked with the daunting duties of putting her affairs in order and trying to sell her house.
Prior to this, he’d had a house and a good job stocking shelves for a local retailer where he’d been for five years. Before that, he’d worked as a mechanic and later did outside sales in the energy sector.
After losing his mother, however, he started to experience what felt like mini-heart attacks, which he now attributes to stress. It was these health problems that ultimately caused him to lose his job, and from there, he said his life spiraled out of control.
In his mid-50s, Keith had never been married, so he didn’t have a wife or children or other family members to help motivate and keep him afloat. Instead, he just wallowed in his grief, feeling sorry for himself.
He finally managed to sell his mother’s place last fall, and moved into an apartment. He later rented a cheap hotel room when he could no longer afford to pay his monthly rent. When his money finally ran out, he had nowhere else to go.
“My life fell apart like a Chinese motorcycle,” he said.
Coming to the shelter for Keith was the most humiliating and humbling moment of his life, but he’s using the opportunity to claw his way back.
“You can’t get any lower than this,” he said, “and I knew it would motivate me.”
After roughly five years without work, he finally has a job again, and is now able to save his money, so he can get an apartment and eventually move out.
The Council of Community Service’s Way Station has given him that opportunity, and without it, he would have had nowhere else to go.
Close to Home
From the shelter, Keith can see his childhood home just a few blocks away. It’s a complicated feeling of nostalgia and grief, and he’s eager for the time when he’s able to stand back on his own two feet.
He’s grateful for the shelter and the staff, who he says treat him very well. Still, it’s the shame of landing here that overwhelms him.
“I’m scared to death that people will drive by and see my vehicle in the parking lot,” he said, looking down at his shoes.
But, at the same time, hitting rock bottom may have been the only way for Keith to make it back.
By the numbers
In 2017, Wyoming received $292,970 in funding. Compared to neighboring states with similar demographics and topography, Wyoming is at the very bottom of the list.
Other neighboring states fare better when it comes to federal funding.
Last year, South Dakota received a disbursement of $1,294,469,
North Dakota $1,816,359, and Montana received a whopping $2,500,597.
By contrast, Oregon received more than $18,120,000.
Given those staggering figures, we’re lightyears behind in the Cowboy State.
Learn more about homelessness in Gillette at 82717Life.com.