KALISPELL - Community leaders, business owners and first responders met in Kalispell Thursday morning at the Flathead Warming Center to have a real conversation about homelessness.
The most recent Point-in-Time survey shows that Kalispell and the surrounding areas have the second-largest homeless population in the state, behind Missoula.
“This is a serious issue in our community and it’s going to take some serious solutions,” said Flathead Warming Center Executive Director Tonya Horn.
Dozens of community members jammed into the Flathead Warming Center Thursday morning to discuss homelessness in Flathead County, and ways a community can come together to find solutions.
“Instead of saying well it’s the city’s problem or it’s the county’s problem, or it’s social services problem, you know, it’s a community issue,” said Horn.
Horn said the low-barrier access homeless shelter is adding capacity to keep up with the growing demand for a warm place to sleep.
“We’re adding 10 beds, so we’re a capacity of 50, four of those beds will be held for our first responders so that in the middle of the night emergencies we have a location for people to stay to be warm and safe,” added Horn.
She said the warming center served 349 individuals last winter, a 69% increase from the previous season.
“What I really need people to know is our greatest increase in individuals is the elderly population, our elderly population needing a warm safe place greatly increased, we were literally handing out walkers to help individuals that we were serving at the warming center,” said Horn.
Kalispell resident Shawn McGrath is disabled and recently became homeless for the first time because of a housing issue. He’s now sleeping in his car; he worries there are others in a similar situation.
“I just became homeless this last month and I had never been here to the warming center, I had never been in here, so I came in here and I wanted to talk to the ladies because I was interested in the statistics of how much more the homeless has risen in Kalispell, it’s gone up 100% since last year, that’s a lot,” said McGrath.
Horn said the open discussion is a step in the right direction, but a solution won’t be found overnight.
“It all comes from a place of compassion, we have a very passionate community and as we open up those lines of communication, we’re going to come to solutions,” said Horn.
The Flathead Warming Center officially opens its doors for overnight stays during the cold months on Oct. 10.