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Nonprofit Finds Site for Low-Barrier Homeless Shelter in Kalispell

Flathead Warming Center hopes to open at Christ Church Episcopal before Christmas

By Justin Franz
Tonya Horn and Luke Heffernan of The Flathead Warming Center stand at the entrance to the warming center, which is located in the basement of the Christ Episcopal Church in Kalispell on Dec. 6, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

A non-profit group working to establish a low-barrier homeless shelter in the Flathead Valley has found a home in Kalispell.

On Dec. 6, the Flathead Warming Center announced that it had come to an agreement with Christ Church Episcopal to open up a shelter in the basement of the church on Third Avenue East near downtown. Warming center co-chairs Luke Heffernan and Tonya Horn said that if everything works out they hope to open the facility by Dec. 25.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Horn said.

The Flathead Warming Center has been working for nearly a year to find a suitable location for its facility.

Although there are shelters in Kalispell, there are no low-barrier facilities. Most shelters require residents not to 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.

The shelter will be open from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. from December until the end of March.

Horn said the non-profit is working with the fire marshal to determine how many people can safely stay in the church basement at one time. The group purchased cots earlier this year.

Before the warming center can open, the group needs to hire staff and volunteers to run it. Horn said they hope to have people in place in the coming weeks and will be offering volunteer training sessions on Dec. 17, 19 and 21. For more information, contact volunteer coordinator Anne Miller at (406) 270-9055. The group is also still looking for supplies, including bedding, pillows and more.

Heffernan said the group has met with the property owners immediately surrounding the church to address any concerns they may have.

“We want to be good neighbors,” he said.

The group says that the Christ Church Episcopal is an ideal spot for the emergency shelter because it’s already home to a food pantry and other services.

According to a community-wide count in January, there are about 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.

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

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