The Samaritan House, a shelter on Kalispell’s west side, is taking the first steps toward changing how it delivers services to the Flathead Valley’s homeless population.
Last week Samaritan House leaders hosted an open house in advance of applying for a permit allowing them to serve meals out of the cafeteria in their administrative center at 1110 Second St. W., a significantly larger dining facility than where they currently provide food.
According to Chris Krager, Samaritan House’s executive director, the shelter typically serves dinner to about 40 people every evening, in a cafeteria built to accommodate 22 people.
“It’s just seriously too small,” Krager said. “We can’t fit them all in at dinner time.”
The shelter also serves breakfast and lunch every day. By serving meals out of its administrative center, in the former U.S. Army Reserve Center building which is about two blocks from Samaritan House, the shelter will be able to accommodate more diners at one time, and free up more space for beds or other needs.
“We have a huge need for more beds for homeless people in the valley and by doing what we’re doing we’ll absolutely max out the space for beds,” Tom Nelesen, president of Samaritan House’s board, said at the open house.
Samaritan House typically provides a place to stay for anywhere from 80 to 85 homeless people every night. But according to the recent Annual Homeless Survey for Flathead County, the valley’s homeless population numbers about 483. That means Samaritan House amounts to 18 percent of what is necessary to properly address the Flathead’s homeless, Krager said. Annually, Samaritan House serves about 1,600 people, and 26,000 meals. Last year, Samaritan House turned away 803 people.
In 2008, Samaritan House moved many of its offices into the administrative center, after acquiring the building through a government program that turns defunct military facilities over to homeless aid agencies. Moving several offices over freed up space for an additional 11 beds to the shelter at 124 9th Avenue West.
Moving additional functions over to the administrative center could take that one step further, allowing Samaritan House enhanced office space to offer tutoring for children, GED study programs and tele-medical services, a dental and medical clinic and pantries for donated food, clothing and furniture.
But the administrative center is currently not zoned by the city to provide food service, so Samaritan House plans to apply for a conditional use permit. Though the building’s zoning classification best meets the description of a homeless shelter, there are no plans to transition it into an additional place for homeless people to sleep.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to apply the homeless shelter designation but it’s the only way you can serve food,” Nelesen said.
The Samaritan House will request restrictions specifying no beds can be added, but will instead be used strictly for administrative tasks and serving food. He emphasized the facility will not be a “day shelter.”
“It will not be used as a recreational facility,” Nelesen added. “It will not be used as an area to congregate between lunch and dinner.”
The Samaritan House only serves meals to those staying at the shelter, and it does not serve sex offenders, violent offenders or anyone with a felony. Nelesen said the shelter plans to apply for the conditional use permit some time in the coming weeks.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.