Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Samaritan House Gets Former Armory

Below is an article printed in today's edition of the local newspaper The Daily InterLake

Samaritan House is the winner of the Sonstelie Hall lottery.
For the last few years, local agencies and organizations have eyed the former Sonstelie Hall Army Reserve Center near Peterson School on Second Street West in Kalispell.
Flathead County Agency on Aging hoped to relocate from its cramped facility on Kelly Road to the more spacious Army Reserve building.
Kalispell Public Schools hoped to move its centralized elementary support kitchen there and possibly using some space for additional kindergarten and early childhood classrooms.
Instead, the U.S. General Services Administration assigned the building to the Flathead Valley’s only homeless shelter.
“I feel bittersweet,” said Chris Krager, Samaritan House’s executive director. “I know a lot of people had an interest in the building.”
Samaritan House was able to acquire the property because homeless-assistance programs are given priority over other programs, he said.
“My application was given a priority consideration,” he said. “There must be a reason that the government put a homeless priority in there.”
Samaritan House will use the 12,327-square-foot main building primarily as office space. Krager’s office, as well as the accounting and case management offices, will move into the building, which has been empty since 2003.
There won’t be any beds at the new site, Krager said, but when the offices move from Samaritan House’s current building on Ninth Avenue West, the shelter will be able to serve more people.
In 2007, Krager had to turn away 545 people because Samaritan House was full.
“That’s why I applied for the property,” he said.
Moving the offices will allow the shelter to accommodate an additional 60 people annually. About 1,500 people stay at Samaritan House each year.
“It doesn’t make a huge impact,” Krager admitted. “But it does make some positive impact.
“That is 10 people at any point in time that will get help by nature of us having this extra building.”
Better still, Samaritan House gets the property for free. Federal law says underutilized, unused, excess or surplus real estate may be made available at no cost to homeless providers.
“The essence of it is with an increased demand for homeless services and increased numbers of homeless people, and the weight of our budget and trying to make ends meet, it feels really, really refreshing to get something for free,” Krager said.
Samaritan House will have a 30-year deed, he said. During that time, the shelter must use some part of the property to serve homeless people.
When the 30 years are up, the property belongs to Samaritan House to use as the organization deems best.
The building may need some minor repairs, Krager said, but except for years of accumulated dust, it’s ready for new occupants. Samaritan House’s existing facility will need some construction, he said. Staff will remain the same.
Krager hasn’t yet received the key or the deed. As soon as he has those, he has one year to move in.
“It’s going to be a slow process,” he said.
The Army Reserve building is Montana’s latest government property handled by the General Services Administration, the largest public real estate organization in the country. It also handled an armory-turned-homeless-shelter in Bozeman and the former Air Force base in Lakeside, which now houses a Youth With a Mission base.

Sunday, February 24, 2008


This is the Christian Center Youth Group Core Leadership Team. They were ambushed by their Youth Pastor, Jason Bishop (in the middle). They were told only that they were "Going on a field trip." Without hesitation they cleaned the parkinglot, sidewalks, food pantry room and moved a huge old freezer up from the basement (pictures below). It would have taken Samaritan House staff and I a few hours to do what these guys did in just a half hour. Not to mention the ibuprofen I would have needed after wrestling with that freezer.

Pastor Jason is a man who has a heart for the lost and empathy for local homeless people. How refreshing to see these guys show up not even knowing they were coming here and just dive right in and do stuff. James chapter 2 talks about faith in action and instructs us to love others as we love ourselves. .......These guys get it.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What's the Deal With Cardboard Signholders?

Seeing more people in the area “flying” a sign, as they say, made me want to study this scenario a little more. I wanted to know what was the true motivation for holding a sign. What do the people need and why do they think that holding a sign is the best way to get it? Is giving money to the sign holder a good idea or will it just prolong his or her problem and aid someone’s alcohol, drug or cigarette problem? I also wanted to know if the people holding signs were just simply not aware of the services available in this area? I have an internal struggle when I see a person on the street corner holding a sign asking for money. I want to help, but I worry that helping that person with cash may be the wrong thing to do. I think most people have those same thoughts. I have heard stories of sign holders doing pretty well for themselves almost making it a career. On the other hand, some of the sign holders I have seen were truly in need.

I knew that in order to conduct this study I would need to have pretty clear parameters to get results that could be looked at without bias. I determined to use 2007 to document in a fair and accurate manner as many interactions with sign holders as possible. All results are unduplicated however if I outreached the same sign holder more than once I would offer the same help as I previously had without counting them in the study again. I limited my response area to the north end of Flathead Valley and I kept track of my response times. The only specific criterion for the study was that the person had to be holding a sign asking for help. I spread the word to other United Way organizations and services as possible asking if anyone sees a sign holder call me.
I received calls from Eagle Transit (the local bus transportation service), Kalispell Taxi, United Way, Flathead Job Service, Flathead Food Bank, local pastors, business people and a few I happened across while running errands in town. Calls came at all times of the day but never later than 6:00 pm. I noticed that calls came in streaks. At times there were one or two weeks without any sign holders. Summer days and the days right after a holiday seemed to be especially quiet. This could also be times that my callers were not available.

My process for interacting with the person holding the sign remained nearly the same every time. First I introduced myself by first name and shook hands. This brought the person to ease knowing that my intentions were good. I then simply asked, “How are you doing?” This naturally led the person into telling part of their story. Then I would introduce myself as the director of Samaritan House and offer shelter, meals, job search help, help accessing other programs and benefits etc… I always had Samaritan House business cards with me as well as business cards from United Way, Flathead Food Bank and the phone number for HelpNet/Neighbors In Need. Ultimately I would offer to pay the sign holder $50, let them do laundry and feed them lunch and in return they would have to sweep and mop the shelter, a job that takes probably three hours when all of this was complete if they decided not to stay at the shelter I would give them a ride back to the place I had picked them up.

In tracking my response time I averaged 45 minutes from initial call to arriving at the location the caller relayed. I was personally able to provide the outreach to all of the sign holders with the exception of a couple of occasions when a trained case manager provided the outreach service. Still with a response time that averaged 45 minutes, 26% of the sign holders were gone when I arrived.

The locations the sign holders were met were all outside of Kalispell city limits. One sign holder even relayed that he was given a ride there via a local police officer after he was told that it was illegal to hold a sign in the city limits. Upon further discussion I learned that this police officer scolded him about his alcohol use and offered to bring him to the Samaritan House, he was not interested. .

Most of the sign holders I outreached were male. 7% of sign holders I outreached were female. 9% claimed to be part of a family. All sign holders claimed to be from the area with the exception of the months of July, August and September. In fact on a few occasions during those warmer months I was told, “This is a just passing through town kind of thing.”

It is interesting to note that on some occasions sign holders would stand on the median of an entrance to a parking lot or store. Upon further conversation it was pointed out that this was in order to reach traffic both coming and going. I did not have any success with sign holders who used the median.

The signs stated everything from “Fallen on Hard Times” to “Vehicle Problems, Anything Helps”. Some signs I documented stated, “Husband Hurt Back, Need Help”, “ Out of Money, Anything Helps”, “Veteran, Need Help”, “Need a Miracle, Anything Helps”, “Need Work”, or my 2007 favorite “Ugly, Broke and Sober- Will Work”. Common sign themes were “Need Help” and “God Bless” I suppose this to be a more effective tool. I also noticed a few dogs accompanying sign holders.

“Need Work” did not hold his sign very long at all. In fact, he had with him a bag a carpentry tools.

“Husband Hurt Back” relayed that her family did have housing but made too much money for public assistance programs and were not qualified for any sort of disability program. She presented a difficult scenario of miserable limbo between being able to make it and qualifying for programs.

While outreaching sign holders I observed them receiving money, groceries, coffee, dog food and phone numbers from kind strangers passing by.

As a result of this yearlong study I spoke with 68 people on the street corner holding signs in 2007. As I mentioned earlier 18 sign holders or 26% were gone when I arrived. In all fairness, because they were gone I do not know if these 18 were people I had previously outreached or not. In my efforts to total unduplicated numbers I should not include these. 35 sign holders or 51% declined any offer of help other than cash and ultimately refused any attempt to make them self sufficient. And finally, 15 sign holders or 22% got in my vehicle or were able to drive themselves to the shelter. Samaritan House was able to help those 15 sign holders in a major life changing way, seeing them through to self-sufficiency.

So what should you do when you see a sign holder?

Based on these results and in good responsibility I feel that giving money to a sign holder is not always the best way to help them achieve success. At Samaritan House we create an environment to identify and conquer the situations that led to the problem in the first place. It takes more time and isn’t as easy as giving five bucks but empowering people to take control of their lives and have success is worth all of the time and effort.

If you see a sign holder and feel led to help them you can give Samaritan House a call at 257-5801 and a qualified case manager or myself will outreach them as soon as possible. Together we can guide people that truly want help down a road that will lead to hope, success and restored self-esteem. Samaritan House sincerely thanks this kind and generous community that gives faithfully to us so that we can continue to give our fellow citizens a hand up.

Thank you for supporting your local homeless shelter.

Point of Clarification

I should have mentioned right away that I am not homeless, I am the Executive Director of Samaritan House, the local homeless shelter in the Flathead Valley.
Samaritan House offers temporary shelter as well as transitional and permanent housing. There are 20 beds for single gentlemen, 8 beds for single ladies and five apartments for homeless families. There are 14 transitional housing apartments and 32 permanent housing apartments and a commercial kitchen that serves approximately 20,000 meals annually. In all levels of our care combined Samaritan House serves nearly 1,500 local homeless people annually. Typically there are nearly 100 local homeless people at the Samaritan House on any given night and every bed is full every night.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The List

If it makes The List it gets done. When it gets done is a question of priority. The challenge is to select from The List according to my priorities. I'm sure everyone has this challenge, whether they know it or not.

Monday, February 18, 2008

homeless in the flathead

homeless in the flathead... let me start by saying everyone has a story, some are good and some aren't... regardless all are precious and should know that. This might have a lot to do with the homeless shelter I run, Samaritan House...

Homelessness can happen for a lot of different reasons. In the Flathead Valley of Northwestern Montana it is hard to imagine that in such a beautiful setting that there would be homelessness. Samaritan House serves nearly 1,500 homeless people every year. In fact, every bed has been full every year since 2002. The "Turn Away" list shows that 545 people were turned away in 2007. Most of the people served at the shelter have had some sort of financial hardship that led to their homelessness. A very small percentage of the people served at Samaritan House's shelter are what would be considered "chroniclly homeless" according to HUD's definition.
As I mentioned the Flathead Valley is a beautiful place. Glacier Park is truly the "Crown of the Continent" as they say. In the Summer I enjoy Flathead Lake and the best fly fishing around. In the winter I sneak away to Whitefish Mountain Resort any chance I can get to enjoy snowboarding with my children. All of this leads to high priced housing and difficulty finding a job that pays well enough. I've overheard it said more than once, "You can't eat the scenery." If you could... well.
Samaritan House offers shelter, transitional and permanent housing, case management services, kitchen and cafeteria and much more. Staff there are always scheming more ways to help.
In my spare time, (besides the fishing, hunting and snowboarding) I play bass guitar for a number of settings. Mostly I play for Rob Quist and the Great Northern. You may hear about them every once in a while. Rob is a great guy, great musician and will likely go down as a legendary Montanan.

For now...