Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Nonprofits conduct annual homeless survey in Flathead Valley

Daily Inter Lake | February 3, 2023 12:00 AM

Nonprofit organizations serving homeless people in Flathead Valley completed an annual Point-in-Time survey, meant to get a handle on the region’s unhoused population, this week.

The survey, which takes a week to conduct, occurs each year to determine the number of homeless individuals in the county on a single night in late January. Several months are needed to verify and tabulate the results, which organizers expect to see return in summer.

Undertaken by local groups, the count is mandated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as a requirement for program funding. The survey acts as a sort of homeless census, collecting participants’ demographic information as well as asking about the circumstances surrounding their homelessness.

“Where are you sleeping or did you sleep on the night of Thursday, Jan. 26?” the survey reads.

The survey asks for initials and age to go along with the answers to ensure precision while protecting participants’ anonymity.

On Tuesday, members of the valley’s Homeless Outreach Team, a collaboration between nonprofit groups whose members connect unsheltered people with services, met to discuss outreach efforts.

Organizations taking part this year included the Flathead Warming Center, Samaritan House, Abbie Shelter, Community Action Partnership, Greater Valley Health Center, Western Montana Mental Health Center, local food banks and others.

The survey is critical to make sure that the local charitable sector understands the depth of homelessness, and uses the data to tailor efforts, said Jody Waggener, resource coordinator for the Flathead Warming Center.

“We’re only as good as our effort to count the community,” Waggener said.

Kalispell City Hall’s recent decision to close the Depot Park gazebo added an extra challenge to this year’s effort by scattering the unsheltered population, Waggener said.

Mylene Widner, lead care coordinator for the Western Montana Mental Health Center’s Projects for Assistance in Transition from Homelessness, said the count helps providers make funding requests for low income housing initiatives.

Samaritan House Director Chris Krager described the survey as “a great success.”

“I really look forward to getting the data,” Krager said. “I use the data to adjust the scope of what Samaritan House does, to determine trends in homelessness and when writing grant requests.”

Last year’s survey counted a total of 319 homeless people in Kalispell, leaving the city with the state’s second-largest homeless population. Kalispell trailed Missoula slightly and accounted for over 20% of Montana’s total homeless population.

The 2022 results marked a significant increase from the previous four years’ data, when the survey showed an average of 234 total homeless people in the city. The spike was even more pronounced in those experiencing chronic homelessness, with the survey finding 87 chronically homeless individuals compared to an average of 26 between 2018 and 2020. Chronic homelessness data was not collected in 2021 because of the Covid pandemic.

Kalispell also accounted for 32% of all unsheltered individuals in Montana in 2022, by far the largest concentration in any one city. According to the survey, 29% of Kalispell’s homeless population typically slept on the streets, with the remainder in emergency shelter or transitional housing.

The city also had the most homeless people with disabilities and was slightly behind Missoula in the number of homeless veterans.

Krager and other homelessness experts expect that this year’s numbers will be similar to the previous survey’s results.

Reporter Adrian Knowler can be reached at 758-4407 or aknowler@dailyinterlake.com.

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