Hope Rises at New Veterans Shelter in Whitefish

New transitional housing facility opens in Whitefish, offering shelter and resources for veterans

By Dillon Tabish
Jason Stevens, executive director of Glacier Hope Homes in Whitefish, pictured on Sept. 22, 2015. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

Jason Stevens was homeless, spending nights in the Samaritan House in Kalispell when he met the veterans who inspired his mission. They were men who served their country in various roles, including combat missions. Many of them struggled with depression and the wide array of symptoms now associated with post traumatic stress disorder. Like Stevens, they were hit by the sudden, unexpected reality of homelessness.

Stevens was homeless for 90 days before he found a good-paying job and saved enough money to leave the Samaritan House. But his experience and the stories he heard at the homeless shelter stayed with him.

It was during that time 18 months ago that he envisioned Glacier Hope Homes.

The project is striking in its ambition and even more impressive in reality: a sprawling campus nestled on a former resort in a wooded section of Happy Valley between Kalispell and Whitefish. Among the 17.5 acres, there are several fully furnished log cabins dotting the scenic landscape.

“The word that always comes up when people visit here is ‘serene.’ That’s what we’re going for — serenity,” Stevens said.

“We want everyone to feel safe, secure and at home here.”

Two weeks ago Stevens officially began welcoming veterans to this safe haven in the Flathead Valley. There are already eight men living there and several veterans on staff helping lay the groundwork for the ambitious passion project.

Glacier Hope Homes is a transitional shelter for male veterans, whether they are homeless or simply discharged and need assistance for returning to civilian life. Stevens hopes to develop the nonprofit organization into a valuable asset for veterans seeking housing, job and education assistance and mental health resources.

The current campus, which is drug and alcohol free, can accommodate 35 veterans, and the goal is to grow the facility to house upwards of 60 to 100 people in the future, Stevens said. There are also plans to be able to house female veterans as well.

Besides offering housing, Stevens and others on staff have set up programming for job training, including landscaping and culinary skills, as well as mental health counseling through licensed medical staff. There are currently 12 people working at Glacier Hope Homes, most of them veterans themselves.

“Civilians don’t understand what veterans have gone through. That’s what this is about,” Shane Sheppard said. “There’s no other facility like this.”

Sheppard, 37, served two years in the U.S. Army and has been homeless for over two years. He was staying at the Samaritan House when he first met Stevens, and that’s when he saw the original plans for Glacier Hope Homes.

“I remember him sitting in the dining room of the Samaritan House designing it. He was designing a full facility from the ground up,” said Sheppard, who was brought on as a staff member and who also lives at the facility. “I really thought it was something that was needed.”

Montana has the third largest population of veterans per capita, with over 99,000, or 10.31 percent of the state’s overall population, according to the latest government data. Flathead County is home to the fourth largest group of veterans in the state with over 9,200.

Concerns have spiked in recent years over mismanaged health care services through the Veterans Affairs Department. Veterans are also committing suicide at a much higher rate than people who never served in the military, according to a new study published earlier this year.

Stevens hopes to combat those issues by offering tools and support, such as a community like Glacier Hope Homes.

“As you come through the door, it’s not a vacation. You really have to want a change here,” Stevens said. “This is a beautiful facility but it’s not just about the facility. It’s about the services.”

Veterans can stay in the housing for a year and a half and be involved in the programming for two years. Everything is free for the veterans.

Plans are in the works for an exercise facility and commercial kitchen, where culinary workshops will be held. Another large building will be able to hold church services or professional speakers.

“This is not a place for a guy to come and stay in bed until 10 a.m.,” Stevens said.

The ambitious endeavor is being fully supported by private donors, Stevens said. The property cost $1.5 million. The annual operating cost is $1 million, according to Mike Grachek, a local businessman who joined the board of directors for Glacier Hope Homes and is the secretary managing its finances.

“I thought it sounded like a good program to help with. Jason brings the drive and vision and I bring the business side,” Grachek said.

“I look at this as a way for people to get a second chance and get a little support to turn their lives back around.”

For Stevens, seeing the consistent community support bring the project to fruition has been overwhelming but also inspiring.

“I love seeing where it is right now. But it’s still evolving,” he said. “Building something of this stature in 18 months, it’s been pretty challenging but very, very rewarding.”

For more information about Glacier Hope Homes, visit http://www.glacierhopehomes.com.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.