Kalispell nonprofit A Ray of Hope broke ground this month on a new facility that will provide life skills classes and additional housing to families in the Flathead Valley, helping to expand the capacity of the organization as it works to support and stabilize community members experiencing homelessness.
A Ray of Hope currently houses 30 people between its men’s and women’s shelters, named Bob’s House and Peggy’s House, respectively, after the organization’s founders, Bob and Peggy Christensen. In addition to providing housing, the organization helps residents find employment, save for a rental home or apartment and seek healthcare and mental health services. Those staying in Bob’s House and Peggy’s House are required to be sober and to participate in community service in and around the shelter.
According to Wayne Appl, fundraising and outreach coordinator, and Rachelle Hernandez, general manager, a key component to getting A Ray of Hope residents back on their feet has been missing from the shelter’s programming: life skills education.
“So many people come through here that don’t know how to do anything,” Appl said, noting that many people who come to the shelter never learned how to check the oil in their car or install a new appliance in their home. “As long as they’re here, we’ll have the opportunity to get them trained on basic home maintenance skills and auto repairs.”
Once the new education center is up and running, Appl said, the organization will offer classes in basic carpentry, plumbing, and electric and automotive repair. The center will also serve as a car repair workshop for community members who cannot afford to take their cars to an autobody shop at full price.
“People who are getting back on their feet, when they’re trying to purchase a vehicle, usually those are less expensive vehicles, which come with needed auto repair. We’re able to help teach them the basic maintenance and help them with their automotive repairs so they can get to and from work or to appointments and things like that,” Hernandez said.
“Instilling skills for them we felt is paramount to getting them down the right path to get back out on their own,” Appl said.
In addition to the education center, the second floor of the facility will be an apartment for an unhoused family. Currently, families can only live at A Ray of Hope if they agree to live separately, given the separate sex setup of Bob’s House and Peggy’s House. By adding a family apartment, the organization will be able to take in one family at a time without asking them to split up.
“The goal with this — and it’s all short term —is to keep a family together, get them on their feet, give them some skills and whatnot to continue on right past us,” Appl said.
Appl is one of many homeless service providers in the Flathead Valley that has observed an unprecedented uptick in homelessness in the area, a phenomenon he attributes to both the harsh local housing market and the prevalence of addiction and mental health conditions.
According to Montana Continuum of Care Coalition Point-in-Time data, 319 people were experiencing homelessness in Kalispell in 2022. Kalispell ranked second in the state by number of unhoused residents, coming in only behind Missoula, a city three times the size of Kalispell, which had 325 unhoused residents. While A Ray of Hope and Samaritan House, another local homeless service provider, offer a 150 spots for people in need of housing, the number of residents experiencing homelessness is far outpacing bed space at the shelters.
“It’s getting worse and worse,” Appl said when asked about the valley’s contuining housing crisis.
While the $275,000 facility is being funded by the Gianforte Family Foundation, Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation and Weyerhaeuser Giving Fund, A Ray of Hope will need additional help from the community to bring the new center to life. Construction is done by volunteers and funded by donations. The organization hopes that the facility will be done by this coming spring, but it will need community support to get there.
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