Flathead Warming Center Sees Rising Demand

Staff at facility is turning away people every night as the housing crisis continues to displace individuals and families

By Maggie Dresser
Flathead Warming Center under construction on Oct. 13, 2021. The center will open later in the month. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

On any given night this winter at the Flathead Warming Center, Executive Director Tonya Horn is regularly turning away anywhere from two to 15 people who are seeking a warm bed.

“We are having to turn away individuals every night, which is so devastating on so many levels,” Horn said. “We didn’t anticipate having to do that … we believed 40 emergency beds would be enough.”

Last December, the warming center’s new permanent location on Meridian Road in Kalispell opened its doors after serving homeless populations at two temporary locations for the past two years, including at Faith Free Lutheran Church and Christ Episcopal Church.

Horn and her staff have noticed a significant rise in demand and a wider demographic of individuals compared to previous years, including young adults, elderly individuals and more families than normal.

“The housing crisis is what we attribute this to,” Horn said. “When housing prices go through the roof that just trickles down.”

In addition to the 40 beds that the warming center offers nightly, Horn has collaborated with local services, including Job Service Kalispell, Shepherd’s Hand Free Clinic, therapists and state workers who help individuals navigate Medicaid and SNAP benefits.

“The warming center is more than just a bed,” Horn said. “We provide people with resources.”

In January, the Frosty the Brewfest raised $11,500 at its annual fundraiser in downtown Kalispell, and Gabe Mariman of Bias Brewing presented the check to the community-supported warming center this week.

“Our community saw a need and they made it happen,” Horn said. “That fundraiser is one of many examples of how the community is supporting the warming center.”

Horn says most of the funding will go toward paying the warming center’s 10 employees.

In addition to a small staff, Horn relies on volunteers and there’s a volunteer orientation every Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The Flathead Warming Center is open every night from 6 p.m. to 10 a.m. during the winter months.

For more information, visit www.flatheadwarmingcenter.org.

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