KALISPELL - The homeless population in the Flathead Valley continues to grow and a lack of affordable housing looks to keep it that way, so community members met on Tuesday evening to try and find solutions to the issue.
Homeless shelters around the valley have found themselves at full capacity -- or even over their maximum -- as the temperatures continue to stay around freezing.
“Samaritan House is typically at out near capacity because we are so small compared to the demand for our services," said Samaritan House Director Chris Krager.
One of the reasons these shelters have been at high capacity is because the lack of affordable housing available in the valley.
“What we see are people coming here who just don’t seem to have any options. People who have lost their housing and they're out in a motel or whatever. So yeah the economy and the housing situation is definitely a driver," said Reverend Donnel O'Flynn of the Christ Church Episcopal.
The church hosted a forum titled “Transforming Homelessness” featuring ix speakers from organizations around the Flathead Valley that help homeless veterans, families or teens. The speakers identified the problems and offered solutions for how to work towards fixing these issues.
O’Flynn is hoping the forum will better inform the church and community on what needs to be done so they can begin to further their work with the homeless population.
“What can we do, what can we learn from other people who have gone farther. What would be helpful, are there ways we can collaborate. So, begin to put together a plan for the parish," O'Flynn said.
He told MTN News that ultimately, he hopes the church can work with the local shelters to help them provide more space. The church has already come up with some ideas while working with the Sparrow’s Nest.
“We’ve talked about collaborating with them, maybe we could have like a teen drop-in center and perhaps they could help us staff it," O'Flynn said. "So that would be our starting point, is the sparrow’s nest, just because we already know them and I like what they’re doing.”
O’Flynn says there is still lots of work to be done but is satisfied with how motivated people are to help the homeless population.
“I’m encouraged by how many people I know are concerned about this. We got six places here for different groups that will be talking," O'Flynn observed. "There’s a lot going on. We can probably do better and I think a lot of people want to do better, and to me, that’s really encouraging.”
Local organizations estimate they serve over 500 homeless people a month and have identified over 300 teens and youth experiencing various levels of homelessness across the Flathead Valley.