In from the Cold

Sparrow's Nest raises funds to feather its two safe harbors for homeless high school students

By Tristan Scott
People congregate around fires during the Sparrow's Nest of Northwest Montana's annual "When the Night Comes" event at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Whitefish on Dec. 10, 2016. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

A mid-December campout in Northwest Montana might strike some as an unappealing setting for a Saturday night gathering, but for residents of Sparrow’s Nest of Northwest Montana, an organization dedicated to supporting Flathead County’s homeless high school students, the evening al fresco was a simulation of their realities.

On Saturday, Dec. 10, about 93 board members, staff and volunteers from Sparrow’s Nest spent the night away from the comforts of their homes to raise awareness about, and funds for, unaccompanied homeless high school students in the Flathead Valley.

Participants slept in tents and sleeping bags or inside cars and trucks in an effort to understand, at least for one night, what homeless children in Montana experience on a given night.

The homeless population in Kalispell and other parts of Flathead County has risen from 240 people in 2007 to nearly 800, according to recent state and local surveys. The number of local people without a consistent place to sleep is one of the largest pockets in Montana, a state that already has the fifth-highest rate of unsheltered individuals in the nation, according to the latest government data.

The sleep-out was held outside St. Peter Lutheran Church in Whitefish and marked the third annual “When the Night Comes,” an event organized by Sparrow’s Nest of Northwest Montana, an organization that provides resources and safe housing for unaccompanied homeless high school students.

Sparrow’s Nest Executive Director Jerramy Dear-Ruel said the organization is designed to provide teens in a broken household with a structured environment so they can succeed in high school and beyond.

The Whitefish residence can house up to five high school teens who live under the supervision of a house manager, while city permitting for a house in Kalispell that can accommodate to eight residents is underway.

This year’s “When the Night Comes” event drew more participants than last year’s event, when 54 people slept out in the wintery cold, while the inaugural fundraiser in 2014 drew only 12 participants.

“Overall everything is going really well,” Dear-Ruel said. “We are still going through donations, but we feel good about the support, and last year we were still receiving contributions in May and June.”

Sparrow’s Nest began in 2012 with a group of concerned Flathead High School parents and evolved into a grassroots community-wide effort to establish a safe place for homeless teens to live.

For more information or to donate, visit www.sparrowsnestnwmt.org, its Facebook page, call 406-309-5196, email at [email protected], or write to Sparrow’s Nest, P.O. Box 8384, Kalispell, 59901.

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