Gary Locke’s telephone is always on.
Day or night. Rain or shine. 24/7.
When someone in Ravalli County finds themselves in need and there’s no one else who can help, it’s Locke’s phone that will often ring.
And, more often than not, he’ll find a way to get them through another day in hopes that their tomorrow will be better.
Stacey Umhey, executive director of Hamilton’s Supporters of Abuse Free Environments or SAFE, has known Locke for many years.
“Over that time, Gary has helped hundreds of people who have been impacted by domestic and sexual violence,” Umhey said. “Our shelter is often full and we’re just always grateful that we can count on Gary to help people find housing when we’re not able to provide it.”
“He’s ready to help people at a moment’s notice,” she said. “You can give Gary a call day or night, anytime. I don’t know anyone who will answer their phone all night long.”
And it’s not just shelter that Locke is willing to help provide.
“He just touches people in so many different ways,” Umhey said.
Locke is a founding member of the nonprofit Family Shelter of the Bitterroot. The organization once operated a homeless shelter on the northern edge of Hamilton. After that operation stopped, Locke continued working with the homeless and dispossessed. He works closely with local churches and others to raise funds to provide people in need of a warm place to stay and a hot meal. Locke worked closely with other caring folks to put together a community meals program that’s fed thousands in its seven-year history.
Denny Calvert and his wife, Cheryl, worked to create and build the community meals program.
“Gary planted the seed,” Denny Calvert said. “He’s been a full supporter of the program ever since. He comes down quite often and sits down and talks with people who are there. He prays with them.”
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Most people in the Bitterroot Valley don’t even know half of what he accomplishes, Calvert said.
“He’s on call 24/7 to help people in need,” he said. “Regardless of what those needs may be, he’s there to help. He’s done a ton of good in this valley. He has the biggest heart of anyone I know.”
Hamilton Police Chief Ryan Oster said when the Lighthouse homeless shelter kind of came apart several years ago, Locke didn’t let that stop his efforts to help those most in need.
“When they moved away from the physical shelter, he continued to find ways to provide housing for folks in need,” Oster said. “He especially has a real desire to provide for families and find ways to keep them all together.”
Locke has also worked with local churches over the past couple of years to open up warming shelters when temperatures plunge.
“He works tirelessly,” Oster said. “And he’s always behind the scenes. He doesn’t fly his flag out in the open and he just keeps banging away and making things happen.”
The homeless issue isn’t as simple as what many on social media want to make it out to be. Oster said there are “dozens and dozens” of reasons why people are homeless. Mental illness, substance abuse or sometimes people just run into hard times.
“I’m glad that Gary does what he does,” Oster said. “It’s no picnic, but someone needs to do it. We should all be glad that we have folks like Gary who are willing to do everything they can to help those in need.”
And he does it all without any infrastructure or office.
“Gary has been running this organization for more than 10 years now and he all he has is his cell phone,” Umhey said. “He sort of lives his work in a way that I think is super admirable.”
“Sometimes I joke that when I grow up I want to be like Gary,” she said. “I know that he’s touched so many people in a very positive way. He’s changed lives for the better."