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Homeless shelters prep for winter

November 13, 2018

With winter around the corner, Kalispell shelters are preparing for the harsh weather that often cues dozens of homeless locals to come knocking.

One local shelter, the Samaritan House, has incorporated roll-away hotel beds and mats to make sure the facility can accommodate everyone looking to escape the below-freezing weather. Last year, some residents had to be turned away due to lack of available beds, but this year, Director Chris Krager hopes the shelter’s bolstered efforts will bring the turn-away count to zero.

“We are going to use the lobby and cafeteria spaces if we have to,” Krager said. “There shouldn’t be anyone this season who goes without a warm place to stay.”

At the Samaritan House, employees and volunteers are planning to care for about 65 homeless residents every day, Krager said.

According to the Montana Continuum of Care Coalition, there were more than 200 homeless individuals in Kalispell in 2017.

The Samaritan House shelters around 1,350 men, women and children each year. Although most days of the year the house is close to capacity, Krager said winter warrants a greater sense of urgency from those trying to find a temporary or long-term place to stay.

“The nature of homelessness in Montana is that it can be fatal,” Krager said. “The conversations I have with the people who stay with us in the winter months are much more serious than with other seasons.”

The Samaritan House offers transitional housing where longer-term homeless men and women are paired with a case manager who works to integrate them back into the working world and find them a potential place to live. According to Krager, about 85 percent of those who complete the transitional program leave the shelter no longer homeless because they’re employed.

About one-third of the people at Samaritan House are in transitional housing. But while most seeking shelter only stay for days or weeks at a time, residents going through the transitional program can stay for up to two years.

“We can take anyone and give them a place to stay and a meal, but without a program and people who are invested in the outcome, we won’t be able to fix homelessness,” Krager said.

According to Krager, one of the biggest challenges in the transitional process is finding affordable housing in Flathead Valley - something that appears to be getting worse every year.

“We have people who have been working and saving paychecks, but they can’t find an affordable place to live,” Krager said.

He said Kalispell’s housing instabilities are partially to blame for the homeless population. Many of those who come to the shelter can’t find any available properties to rent, let alone ones that are affordable. On average, residents at the Samaritan House have been Flathead County locals for about five years, he said.

A Ray of Hope is another organization that provides shelter and accommodation for up to 50 homeless in its two properties. Combined with the Samaritan House, the two organizations can house about half of Kalispell’s homeless population at full capacity.

A Ray of Hope has been providing shelter and meals for about 20 years, but is more restrictive of people they house. For instance, those looking to stay must pass a breathalyzer test and background check, and if a couple is to sleep in the same bed, they need to be married.

“If you’re going to stay, we just ask that you’re drug- and alcohol-free and we don’t want people with violent histories,” said Wayne Appl, the fundraising and outreach coordinator for A Ray of Hope.

Unlike the Samaritan House, A Ray of Hope does not receive federal funding, relying heavily on donations and volunteers.

In July, the organization opened a second property for women and children only, where about 25 homeless can claim refuge. According to Appl, the house has been full since about a week after it opened.

This week, Kalispell’s weather reports show below freezing temperatures every night as Northwest Montana launches into the winter season.

“Even if you don’t frequently think about homelessness, the empathetic thing to do is make sure your neighbor has a meal and a place to stay,” Krager said.

The Samaritan House is located at 124 Ninth Ave. W.; phone number: 406-257-5801

A Ray of Hope is located at 46 Fifth Ave. W.; phone number: 406-755-4673

Reporter Kianna Gardner may be reached at 758-4439 or kgardner@dailyinterlake.com.

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