Nonprofit Struggles to Find Site for New Shelter in Kalispell

Flathead Warming Center hopes to establish a low-barrier shelter before winter sets in

By Justin Franz

While many in Northwest Montana looked at the recent cold snap as an inconvenient reminder that winter is fast approaching, the people behind the Flathead Warming Center saw it as a ticking clock.

Earlier this year, the nonprofit was established to build a low-barrier shelter to protect homeless individuals during the winter, but the group has struggled to find a space to set up shop in Kalispell. Despite the setbacks, the co-chairs, Luke Heffernan and Tonya Horn, are optimistic that they will be able to find a space before the snow flies — so optimistic that they’ve even started purchasing cots to be ready as soon as possible.

Although there are shelters in Kalispell, there are no low-barrier faculties. Most shelters require residents not be using drugs or have a criminal background, which means some people are unable to stay there and may be left in the cold or have to sleep in their car or the police station lobby. The group hopes to fashion the Flathead Warming Center after a similar facility in Bozeman, said Horn, a social worker who previously ran the warming center in Gallatin County.

Horn and Heffernan said they have looked at a number of buildings in the Kalispell area and were close to signing a lease, but that fell through.

“We knew finding a location would be challenging,” Horn said.

The warming center would also need to get approval from the city before opening its doors.

The organizers said they understand that some people might be concerned about having a shelter near their home or business but that they plan on being good neighbors and want to work closely with the shelter’s neighbors. The shelter would be open every night from November until March.

Heffernan said there is a need for a low-barrier shelter. According to a community-wide count in January, there were nearly 280 homeless individuals in the Kalispell area. Heffernan said in recent years some people have lost limbs because they had to sleep in the cold. Some seek shelter at the police station lobby, an area that is not set up to properly protect people.

Heffernan said he is confident they will find a space soon because he knows the Flathead Valley is a caring place.

“There is a huge need in our community,” Heffernan said. “But we take care of each other in the Flathead Valley.”

For more information or to contact the organizers, email [email protected]. Donations can be sent to Flathead Warming Center, PO Box 7142, Kalispell, Montana 59904. For more information, visit FlatheadWarmingCenter.org.