Two mental health workers at Billings Clinic, who regularly interact with the homeless in our community, are taking it upon themselves to make sure our neighbors in need have the essentials this winter.

Taylor Becker and Shyla Schlueter both work at the Psychiatric Center at Billings Clinic, and they started talking about a project to help the homeless in our community last year, after coming in contact with those who left the hospital without anything.

"Taylor and I typically have the same mindset and beliefs regarding helping others and doing so with kindness and empathy," said Shyla Schlueter. "Working in a psychiatric hospital, we see a diverse group of individuals with mental illness, and a handful of these individuals are homeless," she said.

Schlueter said that after spending time getting to know her patients, she discovered that many of them don't have family, friends, or even the basic necessities to live comfortably. "Others left with no shoes, socks, or jacket, and in the hospital scrubs they receive when they come in," she said. "I started to think that we needed to do something sooner rather than later, especially during winter."

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Taylor and Shyla wasted no time getting supplies collected, setting up an Amazon wish list with the most needed items, and a Venmo code for monetary donations. After friends, family, and co-workers started sharing their wish list on social media, it wasn't long until supplies started to roll in.

Each backpack will be filled with essential items including hats, gloves, socks, hand warmers, foot warmers, bathing wipes, a set of long-johns, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, Chapstick, floss, a Mylar blanket, compressed washcloths, an inspiration message, band-aids, feminine products, and snacks. A list of local resources and services will also be included in the backpacks.

The backpacks will be handed out this Sunday (12/13), with Taylor and Shyla planning to drive around and find individuals in need. A message about the backpacks was posted in a local Facebook group that helps people who are struggling, and Shyla said she immediately got a response. "Since then, I have gotten messages of people living in their car or on the streets and messages asking if we can try to find their family members who are homeless to get them a backpack," she said.

This is the first year the women will be handing out the backpacks for homeless, and they plan for it to be a yearly, if not twice a year event.

An unfortunate combination of bad events and situations can make a person lose everything. It could happen to anyone, at any given moment really. Our goal is to make a difference, encourage others to do the same, and show kindness, empathy, and compassion to everyone. -Shyla Schlueter

Taylor Becker was raised in Huntley and has been working for three years as a mental health worker at the Billings Clinic. She will be graduating this spring with an associate degree in Nursing and plans to continue her journey at the Psychiatric Center.

Shyla Schlueter is from Billings and graduated from West High School in 2001. She is licensed as a therapeutic foster home, where she provides respite care for foster parents, and currently has one year of college left where she is majoring in elementary and special education. Upon graduation, Shyla hopes to work with at-risk youth that have emotional and behavioral disorders.

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