Making Ends Meet at the End of the Year

Chris Krager has led Kalispell’s Samaritan House for 16 years and is thankful for the annual influx of holiday generosity

By Justin Franz
Chris Krager, executive director of Samaritan House. Beacon file photo

Last week, Chris Krager looked out his window, saw snow and worried. Krager, the executive director of the Samaritan House in Kalispell, immediately thought of someone who had probably just spent a frigid night alone in a car.

Krager has been leading the Kalispell homeless shelter for 16 years and said this time of year is always the most stressful. Not only are the days getting colder and the shelter is at capacity most nights, but Krager also worries about whether nonprofit will stay in the black at the end of the year. But in the back of his mind, he knows that the local community will generously come through in the end. Nearly 40 percent of the shelter’s annual budget comes from donations, and 40 percent of those donations come during the final two weeks of the year.

“The budget gives me so much anxiety, but there is always a wave of generosity at the end of the year,” Krager said. “This community is so amazing and the people in this valley are so generous.”

The Samaritan House’s annual budget is about $625,000, and the largest piece of the pie comes from donations. Grants and rent from its low-income apartments also contribute to the bottom line. Krager is trying to make the shelter’s money go even further, and help clients even more, by implementing a consolidated entry system. The system works in coordination with other area groups that help the homeless, including United Way and the Abbie Shelter. While at times it results in more administrative work, Krager says it means the local nonprofits can better serve people.

Years ago, the shelter had a singular goal: to eliminate homelessness. But Krager said that mission has changed in recent years into something more achievable: making homelessness rare, brief and nonrecurring. He said homelessness is cyclical in the Flathead, but increasing rents are the most common cause. Whenever a major employer shuts down or lets people go, the shelter usually fills up with working families.

Krager said after more than a decade of working at the Samaritan House, he sees families go through the same cycle over and over again. When they first arrive, they are quiet, and tears are common. Within a few days, however, they come to realize they are in a safe and clean environment. And a few days or weeks after that, their tears are replaced with smiles and laughter when they find a new job or home. Most people stay at the shelter less than a month.

“Before you know it, they’re packing their car and on their way,” he said. “It’s just so exciting to watch.”

Moments like that have kept Krager coming back to work for 16 years.

For information on how to help, visit www.samaritanhousemt.com.