Kalispell Council to Host Work Session on Homelessness

The city council recently revisited homeless population issues and councilors requested a work session and public hearing in May to brainstorm solutions, including potentially revoking the Flathead Warming Center’s conditional use permit

By Maggie Dresser
Kalispell City Hall. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Kalispell City Council will host a work session in May to brainstorm potential solutions surrounding homelessness within the municipality, which officials say continues to disrupt businesses operations and absorbs law enforcement and first responder resources.

Councilor Chad Graham requested the future work session at the April 1 council meeting and said he was concerned about the high volume of homeless individuals that congregate near the Flathead Warming Center in the North Meridian Road area.

In the years since the council approved the Warming Center’s conditional use permit in November 2020, Graham said he feels the social service is negatively impacting the neighborhood and business owners told him they are concerned about the behavior and activity in the area.

“(They are) accepting things that are now a new normal,” Graham said. “These things are being spit in the face, loitering in front of businesses and sidewalks, screaming and threatening actions, pounding on doors and windows, feces on front doorsteps of homes and businesses, sleeping on property and escorting customers to the front door at times.”

Graham said that the current environment is not reflective of what was promised, which includes responsiveness to neighbors, when the council approved the permit more than three years ago.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that the information in the application that I used to inform my decision are not currently reflecting the current condition of the neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhood,” Graham said. “This is unfortunate because when I look back on the meeting and reading all the documentation, this was something that this entire council was in full support of.”

Graham requested a work session to discuss homelessness and analyze the conditional use permit application and law enforcement calls in the area. He also asked that it be followed by a public hearing designated for business owners and residents in the neighborhood near the Warming Center.

If there was enough negative feedback surrounding the Warming Center, Graham said he would like the council to consider a formal quasi-judicial process to potentially revoke the conditional use permit.

“I wouldn’t go through and say the outcome is necessarily revoking the conditional use permit at the public hearing, but … what I want to be clear is, I want what I was told to be true,” Graham said, referring to the the conditional use permit. “I went through, and I made a decision based off of what I was being told and I want it adhered to.”

During public comment, a resident who lives near the Warming Center told the council she has seen a spike in the homeless population in the neighborhood and said the volume is “three-fold from what it was a year ago.”

“They line up on the street at 4:30, 5 o’clock every day to get in there,” she said. “They’re hanging out in the Meridian and Liberty intersection on the electric boxes, they’re at the fairgrounds continuously. I’m done with it.”

While other councilors agreed that the homeless population appears to be growing, some saw it as a more widespread issue.

“I feel the pain for these people,” Councilor Jed Fisher said. “I agree, we’re moving people around and I think it’s a much larger problem and I think we need to look at this a little more … We’re just slipping away here, and I feel for the police, I feel for the parks trying to respond to these junk piles I’m seeing. I think our residents deserve better and I hope we can come up with a solution.”

Councilor Ryan Hunter agreed that the negative behavior has been an ongoing issue, but he believed it was a broader issue that must be solved by reducing the homeless population instead of cutting off resources.

“We also have to recognize not placing blame of the very real problems of homelessness at the foot of the Warming Center … It was unfortunate that the Warming Center opened up at a time when housing prices skyrocketed and services closed,” Hunter said. “There was a correlation, not a causation.”

[email protected]