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A Home at Samaritan House: Service organization aims to help veterans, families with expansion project

by TAYLOR INMAN
Daily Inter Lake | May 22, 2024 12:00 AM

Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series exploring the Samaritan House's $16.9 million expansion project. 

When the temperatures dropped this past winter, 70-year-old Dave Anderson faced losing a limb — his second limb — to frostbite. 

But with help from the Samaritan House in Kalispell, the Navy veteran was able to spend March recuperating. Doctors have since told him he’ll get to keep his foot. 

“I've been quite happy about the fact that I get to keep this one because I'm not sure how I’d get through two amputations,” Anderson said. 

Samaritan House Executive Director Chris Krager said about 30% of the organization’s clients are veterans like Anderson. It’s one reason why the nonprofit was given the former Armory Building by the federal General Services Administration’s property disposal program to transform it for the purpose of addressing homelessness in the area.

The organization is nearing the end of its $16.9 million campaign to build an expansion to its administrative office building and surrounding campus. That will include 16 apartments for veterans, 18 two- to three-bedroom apartments for families (both income based) and an expansion of the administrative building to allow for a larger cafeteria and a cold weather overflow shelter. 

Anderson’s previous stay at the shelter a decade ago helped him gain back his independence after the loss of his left leg. Other residents of Samaritan House echoed his story, saying that their stints in the facility gave them stability during turbulent times. Samaritan House staff are hopeful the upcoming addition of low-income housing will further help veterans and families by filling housing gaps in the community.  

“Veteran housing is important. Kalispell is the largest city in Montana with no dedicated homeless veteran housing, and so we're going to fix that,” Krager said. “We know Montanans as a general population have a higher percentage of veterans, and that also filters down to our unhoused neighbors.” 

Even though Anderson has property, he doesn’t have sufficient heating in his home in Marion. He lives in a fifth wheel in isolation, which he prefers — being alone in the great outdoors is something he has always held dear. But when temperatures dropped to -45 in January the heaters in his camper could not keep up. He said he didn’t realize he was getting frostbite.

“Part of the problem was, I think, that I had a big ol’ cushy sock on this foot. And I'm thinking ‘OK, it doesn't really hurt, it doesn’t throb, it does nothing.’ And then I took it off one day and I went ‘Oh, this ain't good,’” Anderson recalled. 

During his most recent stay at Samaritan House he found a helping hand. His son is currently living upstairs at the shelter, and Anderson said he’s been helping change the dressings on his injury. As he recovers, he is dreaming of returning to his land in Marion. 

OTHER VETERANS at Samaritan House were previously living out of their cars, like 73-year-old Ron Fisher. He said he’s been homeless for the last several years, traveling with his rough collie, Hunter. After a successful career with the Air Force, Fisher became an attorney in Southern California. He said was doing quite well until a bad car accident in 2017. 

“It was all downhill from there,” Fisher said, adding that he needed multiple surgeries to recover.

After living in Missoula for several years, Fisher moved to the Flathead Valley. He continued to live in his car, struggling to afford food. 

“Sometimes the hardest thing was just getting up in the morning. Just to get up and face the problems, because you know, it's gonna be a mess,” Fisher said. “It's hard, that's why I have Hunter. He makes me get up in the morning.” 

Everyone Fisher meets lights up at the sight of his rough collie, especially the shelter staff. He said after years living in his car, it was good to be in a place where he felt like he could get back on his feet. 

“It’s a place to stay to kind of rebuild your life a little bit, to get away from the depression — that's a big one … but they're good here, they help a lot,” Fisher said. 

He said the shelter is a temporary place for him, a place to get a meal and a shower. Although he had a recent setback finding permanent housing, Fisher spoke about his upcoming goals, including plans to start a power washing business. 

OTHER SAMARITAN House residents are looking to the future, too. Joan Corbin and her daughter Michaela were once residents at the FairBridge Inn and Suites, formerly the Outlaw Inn. They were among many who turned to Samaritan House when the motel closed in 2022. 

She said staff there told her they would work with them until they found housing. That’s a hard task for the Corbins, who can’t work and receive government assistance. Joan said she had a stroke in 1998, followed by several strokes many years later, just before she and her daughter moved into the Outlaw Inn. Joan said she has weakness on the right side of her body. Michaela has severe anxiety and a breathing condition, but is able to enjoy sports with the Special Olympics.

The mother and daughter are two of the 32 residents in the shelter’s transitional apartments. Joan said they have one bedroom, a large bathroom, a kitchen and pay reasonable rent. 

But change is coming: The Corbins will be among the first residents in Samaritan House’s forthcoming low-income family apartments. 

“We're really grateful and we can't wait. We're buying things for our new home, little items here and there. You know, stuff like dishes, and it's exciting. Really, my daughter can't wait. She just talks about it almost every day,” Joan said. 

When they move into their new apartment, they’ll both have their own bedroom, something the two haven’t had for years. Michaela said she’s looking forward to them each having their own space and will be playing on the nearby playground and basketball court. 

Joan said she didn’t expect this kind of opportunity. She remembered when Samaritan House staff asked if she could meet with an architect to review designs for the expanded shelter and low-income housing. 

For her and Michaela, it was enough that the shelter had provided them a stable place to live and made them feel like family. Now, they are getting a brand new apartment.

“It blew me away, all of this, and now we get a brand new home. No one's been in there before — just brand spanking new. And that alone, it just warms my heart that people can be so kind,” Joan said. 

Krager said the family housing will also have a community center that includes a multipurpose area with a kitchenette to potentially host events like birthday parties— as well as three to four offices that will be available for other outreach organizations to meet with residents. He said they have secured funding for a position to manage that aspect of the new apartments, and have hired a staff member with experience helping families with disabilities. 

“It feels good, because we're going to have some folks that are going to get help the exact way that they need it,” Krager said. 

He said the groundbreaking for the apartments is scheduled for July.

In the next installment in this two-part series, Krager shares more details about the building’s renovation and the apartments’ new designs. 

This story has been updated to reflect a new groundbreaking date.

Reporter Taylor Inman can be reached at 406-758-4433 or by emailing tinman@dailyinterlake.com 

    Joan and Michaela Corbin outside Samaritan House in Kalispell on Friday, March 22. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)
 Casey Kreider