A recent state survey found 395 people were homeless and living in the Flathead Valley during the middle of winter. This was at a time when the number of people without shelter or relying on a transitional place to live is typically at its lowest. Among them were teenagers, veterans and seniors.
The homeless population in Northwest Montana remains one of the largest in the state, a stark reality in a region plagued by high unemployment and an abundance of home foreclosures the last few years.
“I think it’s something that people aren’t aware of,” said Danielle Bundrock, the agency development director at Community Action Partnership of Northwest Montana. “It’s something to easily turn a blind eye to. But there is definitely a huge need.”
Bundrock is the organizer of this year’s Project Homeless Connect, a two-day event in Kalispell that pools together resources and services for the valley’s homeless. A number of area businesses and agencies will provide free services at the Samaritan House, 1110 Second St. W., on June 7 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and June 8 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Services will include medical and dental aid, housing and employment assistance and bicycle repair. Food, clothing and toiletries that have been donated will be provided along with bus passes and vouchers for services across the valley.
“There’s so many barriers for the homeless population or those on the brink of homelessness,” Bundrock said, describing how the valley is spread out and difficult to navigate without transportation. “It gets overwhelming to try and find the services here.”
Project Homeless Connect began locally in 2010. More than 40 groups and 100 volunteers joined together to offer a helping hand to anyone who showed up in need during the two-day event. Last year drew over 400 participants, including 137 kids 18 and under, 48 veterans and 26 seniors.
Bundrock experienced Project Homeless for the first time last year when she volunteered as a tour guide. She guided a group of participants through the event’s services and helped them receive medical care, bags of food and even haircuts.
“It was just an event that stole my heart. It’s an amazing event to be a part of,” she said. “You really get to know the people. There are so many stigmas to the homeless population and even low-income people. (Project Homeless) really breaks down those barriers.”
Last year there were 1,768 reported homeless in Montana compared to 1,196 two years earlier. The state saw a 52 percent increase in unsheltered homeless, the second-highest percentage increase in the West.
Though the majority of people in the U.S. who experience homelessness use emergency shelters or transitional houses, almost 40 percent live essentially on the streets, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
On June 7, an assortment of services specifically for veterans will be at the Samaritan House. People only need to present military identification.
Donation boxes are located at each Park Side Federal Credit Union throughout the valley and at Community Action Partnership at 214 Main Street in Kalispell, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Bundrock said volunteers are still needed. For more information about volunteering or to donate, call 752-6565.
Project Homeless Connect is sponsored by Samaritan House, CAPNM, Park Side Federal Credit Union, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Enterprise Holdings Foundation, Whitefish Community Foundation, United Way, Kalispell Regional Medical Center, Glacier Bank and the City-County Health Department.
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