Billings honors members of the homeless population on the winter solstice
Community members gathered in Billings Tuesday for National Homeless Persons' Memorial Day.
Tuesday was the winter solstice - the longest night of the year - and cities across the country held candlelight vigils for people experiencing homelessness, which in Montana include a disproportionate number of Native American people.
About 50 people gathered on the Yellowstone County courthouse lawn midday Tuesday to honor people experiencing homelessness and remember those who died this year.
Apsáalooke, or Crow, tribal member Josiah Hugs placed a smoking half-shell of herbs nearby and sang a song of prayer as people stepped forward to smudge themselves.
Hugs works in youth suicide prevention at Billings Urban Indian Health and Wellness Center. He said Native American youth experiencing homelessness often feel conflicted about their place in the community.
“Like who, where am I, what tribe am I? What does that mean, to be part of a tribe?” he said. “I think that there’s a disconnect there with the urban population, and that’s kinda one of our goals, to educate through our events.”
State data from 2020 show that Native American youth make up the largest proportion of students experiencing homelessness in Montana.
The Tumbleweed Program in Billings is a 24-7 nonprofit agency that offers vulnerable children and young adults a range of free services, including counseling, emergency shelter placement and guidance to other community resources.