Samaritan House Expansion to Include Family and Veteran Housing, Resource Center

The Kalispell-based nonprofit is currently raising funds to expand its operations as the valley’s homelessness crisis continues into the winter

By Denali Sagner
The Samaritan House in Kalispell. Beacon File Photo

As winter weather rolls into the Flathead Valley amid an enduring homelessness crisis, the Samaritan House in Kalispell announced plans for a substantial expansion, paving the way for increased housing and social services for unhoused families and veterans. The “Building Stability” project will encompass a full remodel of the old Army Reserve Armory in Kalispell, where Samaritan House currently houses its administrative offices. With plans underway to begin construction in 2024, the nonprofit is continuing to raise funds for the project while providing a wide range of services at its existing location.

The two-part “Building Stability” project will include the construction of 18 affordable family apartments, as well as a housing and social services center for veterans. Samaritan House Associate Director Morgan Winchester said that while homelessness cuts across diverse populations in the Flathead Valley, families and veterans have been specifically hard-hit, driving the organization to create programs catered towards the two groups.

“We see so many families coming into the shelter now. It’s so hard for even middle class families to afford housing in the valley,” Winchester said. “It’s heartbreaking.” 

Flathead County has one of Montana’s largest homeless populations, a group that has only grown in size over the past three years as pandemic-induced economic crises have pushed individuals and families out of their homes and a local population boom has priced many out of the housing market. Data from Collaborative Housing Solutions of Northwest Montana, a coalition of local service providers, published a report summarizing Montana’s 2022 “Needs and Gaps Analysis,” which revealed 319 unhoused residents in the Kalispell area in 2022, compared to 243 in 2021 and 235 in 2020. Kalispell has the second-largest homeless population in the state, falling only behind Missoula, an alarming figure as Kalispell’s numbers exceed that of larger municipalities like Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Helena and Great Falls.

Samaritan House’s family apartments will be two- and three-bedroom units and will be fixed at affordable rates, as they will be funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Winchester said that Samaritan House hopes to ultimately transition many of the families who come into their shelter to these longer-term apartments. Because Samaritan House is familiar with the needs of the families already in the shelter, the process of moving them into the nonprofit’s new units will likely be smoother than asking families to find affordable housing elsewhere, which is in drastically short supply in the valley.

The organization has secured half of the funds needed to complete the family apartments through grants, and will gather the rest through fundraising efforts. 

“Building Stability” will also include the creation of housing units and a community center for veterans. Kalispell has the second highest population of homeless veterans in the state of Montana, again second only to Missoula, a leading factor in Samaritan House’s goal to increase veteran-related services. Winchester said that in addition to transitional and permanent housing, the remodeled armory space will give veterans a place to receive disability and mental health services, to visit with medical providers and to socialize with one another.

“There’s a huge amount of veterans in the area and there’s no designated housing for them here in the valley and surrounding counties,” Winchester said. “We’re going to have services here that are specific to our vets.”

The inspiration to create a center for veterans did not just come from demand in the valley, however. Recently, Samaritan House connected with Steve and Elaine Olson, whose son, Mark, a veteran of the Army National Guard, passed away in 2011. During his military service, Mark worked in food service at the Armory in Kalispell, the same site Samaritan House will soon begin renovating. In memory of their son, the Olson family donated $80,000 to help renovate and complete the kitchen in the new veterans’ center, which will be named “Mark’s Kitchen.”

“It’s this really big full circle event,” Winchester said. “[Mark] served in the Army here, and now we’re renovating this to serve veterans.”

Though grants and community support for the project have been helpful in moving toward construction, Samaritan House is continuing to collect donations to complete both the family apartments and veteran center. Those interested in making a contribution can mail a check to Samaritan House or donate online via the organization’s website.

As fundraising efforts continue, Winchester emphasized that Samaritan House is currently open to individuals in the Flathead Valley experiencing homelessness.

Each individual who comes into Samaritan House is provided with three hot meals per day and has the opportunity to work with a case manager to address their specific needs. Winchester added that Samaritan House works closely with other local organizations, such as the Abbie Shelter, Community Action Partnership of Northwest Montana, the Warming Center and A Ray of Hope. If necessary, it can also refer individuals to other organizations that may better suit their needs.

“Right now, we are not at full capacity,” Winchester said. “We make room in the winter. We are here, we are open, we are bringing people in.”