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On Monday, the Kalispell City Council unanimously green-lighted a zoning text amendment and conditional-use permit that will allow the Flathead Warming Shelter to move forward with establishing a permanent location off North Meridian Road.

The homeless shelter was temporarily set up last winter in the basement of Christ Episcopal Church in downtown Kalispell and ended up serving more than 100 individuals — a figure that indicates the facility is a much-needed asset to our community.

A soon-to-be permanent fixture in the valley, the Flathead Warming Center will have a maximum capacity of 40 people, will be available during winter’s harshest months and is considered a “low barrier shelter,” meaning it accepts unhoused individuals as they are.

With these features and others to offer, we know the facility will be a strong addition to the valley’s existing network of service providers. And while the community should welcome the warming center with open arms, we should also recognize there is still much work to be done on addressing the longstanding issue of homelessness in the Flathead Valley.

Although the council’s most recent zoning and permit approvals should be applauded, those decisions came on the heels of a heated work session in which the Mayor’s Task Force on Homelessness presented its report on the state of the city’s homeless population.

The contested report was void of input from some of the valley’s most valued service providers, including the Samaritan House, Abbie Shelter and Flathead Food Bank. Yet, the task force largely concluded the responsibility of addressing homelessness is one that should fall at the feet of some of those whose expertise was omitted from the report.

Moving forward, it is vital that these stakeholders have a seat at the table. It only makes sense that those who are the most knowledgeable on issues related to homelessness be asked to join in on those conversations.

And since the release of the report, strides have been made on this front.

According to recent conversations with Flathead Food Bank Executive Director Jamie Quinn, Kalispell Mayor Mark Johnson has agreed to meet with valued stakeholders regularly to work on solutions for homelessness in the valley.

Quinn said the first meeting was held last week and included representatives from Samaritan House and Community Action Partnership and other local figures such as Frank Garner, who was just re-elected to serve a third term as the legislator representing House District 7.

Quinn said the meeting was overall “a success” and all partners felt their concerns and input fell on listening ears. She said “a lot of progress was already made and it was nice to know our voices will continue to be heard.”

The Daily Inter Lake looks forward to eventually reporting on the solutions that emerge from these meetings and others.


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