‘When the Night Comes’ puts homelessness in spotlight

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Joanne Thompson and her Irish setter Rosie sit by the fire while camping out for When the Night Comes event for the Sparrow's Nest of Northwest Montana at the Glacier Gateway Mall in this file photo. (Aaric Bryan/Daily inter Lake file)

For some teens experiencing homelessness, nighttime brings uncertainty in meeting basic needs — sleep, shelter and warmth.

Sparrow’s Nest of Northwest Montana is once again challenging the public to gain insight into the plight of teen homelessness by sleeping out during the fifth annual “When the Night Comes” fundraising event.

The event is a major fundraiser for the nonprofit, which opened a licensed home in Kalispell this year that can accommodate up to eight, unaccompanied homeless teens so they can focus on graduation or completing the High School Equivalency Test known as HiSET.

According to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, homelessness is defined as lacking a fixed, regular or adequate nighttime residence. The term “unaccompanied” means a student is not living in the physical custody of a parent or guardian.

The event will be held Saturday, Dec. 8, at Trinity Lutheran Church, 400 W. California St., Kalispell. People are asked to get sponsorships to sleep outside from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. This year’s goal is to raise around $100,000, said Jerramy Dear-Ruel, executive director of Sparrow’s Nest of Northwest Montana.

The event will begin at 5 p.m. with a soup kitchen provided by the Flathead Valley Community College Culinary Institute. The soup kitchen is free, but donations are requested. At 5:45 p.m., a presentation will be held on high school homelessness and the services provided by the Sparrow’s Nest. The soup kitchen is a new addition to the event and is aimed at reaching people who want to support the event, but may not be able to participate in the sleep-out, according to Dear-Ruel.

The event brings a variety of sleeping arrangements. Past participants have slept outside with and without tents, in vehicles and on friend’s couches. Usually, it’s not a good night’s rest.

“We’re trying to make people aware and put them in kids’ shoes who deal with this day in and day out,” Dear-Ruel said.

Currently, there are five students living at the Kalispell home, which serves students throughout the valley. He said many referrals have come in for the remaining openings. This month alone, Dear-Ruel said he’s received 11.

“And the month’s not over yet,” he said.

Referrals typically come through school staff, but extend to self-referrals and ones from friends or relatives. Identifying high school students experiencing homelessness is challenging since it is dependent on teens self-identifying.

Sparrow’s Nest has also had reason to celebrate. In 2017, the first resident graduated from high school. Dear-Ruel said four former residents are enrolled in college and two are going into the Army.

“So we are rocking and rolling,” he said.

A 12-passenger van was also donated to the nonprofit.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of support from the community,” Dear-Ruel said.

In addition to participants, volunteers are also needed to help out with a medical tent, provide security and help clean up.

Register online at sparrowsnestnwmt.org. Registration will also be open the night of the event.

For more information call Sparrow’s Nest at 309-5196.

Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.

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