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Renovations underway at Flathead Warming Center

by BRET ANNE SERBIN
Daily Inter Lake | June 22, 2021 12:00 AM

When the Flathead Warming Center reopens this fall, the shelter is going to look a bit different.

The homeless shelter closed for the off-season in April, and substantial renovations are underway now that the space is vacant.

The renovations will increase the services available at the Warming Center, which moved into its new, permanent location this past winter.

Executive Director Tonya Horn said the shelter is adding three showers, four more toilets and a laundry room.

Horn said these additions will allow the facility to “serve some gaps in services.”

The renovations are the most recent in a string of developments Horn and her team have championed for the low-barrier shelter, which provides housing without the requirements present at some traditional homeless shelters.

THE FLATHEAD Warming Center started operating in the winter of 2019 from the basement of Christ Episcopal Church.

The shelter continued to operate at the church at the beginning of the 2020 season, then succeeded in moving into a permanent separate facility at 889 N. Meridian Road later in the year.

Horn said the Warming Center likely will open again in October, and its new services will be ready to use by that time.

“We never had our own location before,” Horn said. The Warming Center’s new home was formerly used as an automotive shop.

Horn said she’s excited about the renovations because they should give the Warming Center an opportunity to reach an even larger population than those who have come to the shelter in the past two years.

“We’re going to serve some people we wouldn’t have seen before,” she predicted.

The laundry service, for example, could be a big help to people living in cars or trailers, who wouldn’t necessarily come to the Warming Center for shelter alone.

Laundry service will be free, and Horn hopes to be able to offer daytime hours to use it. Laundry users would not be required to stay at the Warming Center to utilize the service.

The new showers will function in a similar way.

Anyone in the community who could use a shower will be welcome to come to the Warming Center, free of charge. They don’t have to stay overnight to get access to the facilities.

“We’re offering basic needs,” Horn explained. “It’s hard to get out of homelessness without a shower or clean clothes.

“We bring hope,” she added.

AS THE services expand, Horn expects the Warming Center to bring on additional volunteers.

Currently, the center relies upon three volunteers during the evening hours. That number will go up as the Warming Center increases its daytime operations.

Horn isn’t worried about being able to find people to lend their time to the nonprofit organization. She said volunteers often seem to get even more out of being at the Warming Center than guests do, because it’s such a fulfilling experience working there.

Horn said volunteers appreciate “the compassion of handing out a towel, helping make a bed or filling out a form.”

While manpower isn’t a concern, funding is another story, she said.

The Warming Center is completely community-funded, meaning the nonprofit doesn’t receive financial assistance from state or national grants.

Horn said the Warming Center will rely on donations from community members in order to offer daytime services and get the most use out of the renovated space.

To support the Warming Center, go to https://flatheadwarmingcenter.org/donate/

Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at 406-758-4459 or bserbin@dailyinterlake.com.