Flathead County Commissioner issued last week calling on communities to stop supporting “homeless lifestyles” while pointing to a list of challenges facing the county as a result of homeless people who have moved here I am standing behind the letter I wrote.
Commissioner Randy Brodale says the commissioner is asking citizens to stop handing out money and resources to people who don’t intend to be citizens here.
“This story is not about people trying to be part of our community and getting out of luck,” he told the Daily Interlake. It’s about temporary people moving here because services that provide places to sleep are now available, but they don’t require a reward such as drug treatment, alcohol treatment, or mental health behavioral treatment.”
Commissioner Pam Holmquist said the commission spent months working on the details of the letter and heard from several individuals who had become unsafe in their communities, including the county’s trail system.
“We have had homeless people in our community for some time now, but this is unlike anything we’ve seen before,” she said.
The letter also attributed the increase in homeless numbers in Flathead Valley to an increase in services aimed at helping homeless people.
Commissioner Brad Abel said it’s time to hold people accountable for their lifestyle choices so that those who are truly in need can get help.
“The letter from the Commissioner is not an attempt to punish our local citizens,” he said in an email. We’re facing homeless people in style.”
same At that time, the commissioner pointed to a list of challenges facing the county, which they argue were a result of homeless people moving here. It outlines abandoned debris and individual attempts to sleep in Flathead County Fairgrounds buildings, trespassing into county buildings, and the need for increased security measures at the downtown ImagineIF library.
“We are currently tasked with increasing security as temporary residents attempt to hide when county-owned buildings are closed or intervene when they threaten patrons accessing county buildings. “We have received multiple complaints from parents who say they are no longer able to use the county’s trail system because they feel threatened by transients camping on the system.”
Flathead County Fairgrounds Manager Sam Nunnally told the county commissioner on January 17 to remove seven yards of “tents, sleeping bags, human waste and drug paraphernalia” from the Fairgrounds barn stalls. said I have to.
Nunnally said the items were disposed of after fairgrounds staff were finally able to remove the snow that had blocked access for about eight weeks.
The county has allocated $21,000 for library security cameras and committed $24,000 over the next eight years in a capital improvement plan to retrofit restrooms at the library’s request.
County Administrator Pete Melnick said, “This bathroom remodel was in response to an escalating security issue observed at the ImagineIF library.
Additionally, the county says it is exploring the possibility of entering into a private security contract to maintain a unified presence at the county’s North Complex building on North Main Street. can be reached. The county can appoint county officials to help with security at a low cost, estimated at $30,000, Melnick said.
“The vision is that his presence in uniform could be dispatched to locations to assist with security and homelessness in county buildings and on county grounds,” he said. Administrative staff or senior personnel are now being asked to escalate cases with homeless people.”
The Flathead County Sheriff’s Office found someone sleeping in the lobby of the building, but Melnick considers it a rare occurrence.
The letter also denounces information networks that bring homeless people from elsewhere. They claim to have learned about the network based on evidence provided by Whitefish Police Chief Bridger Kelch.
However, Kerch, who was contacted on Monday, has not spoken directly to the commissioner, informed the county that no such arrangements have been made, and that short-term visitors often use online networking while traveling. Whitefish Police will take individuals to Kalispell’s shelter if asked, he said, but that’s not a regular occurrence.
“In my opinion, temporary residents and homeless people are two different things,” Kerch said. “Movers move from place to place by choice, homelessness is not an option.”
letter has received both backlash and support from community members. During Tuesday’s commissioners’ meeting, the board heard from several people about the letter.
Cassidy Kipp of Community Action Partnerships objected to part of the commissioner’s letter linking the opening of Low Barrier Shelter to the fact that Kalispell has the second-highest homeless population in the state.
“We all know this is not a new problem. Turning our backs on entire segments of the population and forgetting that homeless veterans are the most concentrated is doing them a disservice. ‘ she said. “We have a duty to look to community-based services to help people. Turning your back creates a much bigger problem.
Flathead Ekklesia pastor Larry Lautaret said the commissioner raised an important topic, noting that a small percentage of people were causing problems.
“Just giving irresponsible people free stuff doesn’t work,” he said. “It’s not just about imprisonment. People who are unable to care for themselves because of addiction, mental, physical, or emotional problems are forced to die, rather than just die or protect themselves at the expense of others.” You need to take care of it.
John Lacy asked county commissioners to learn about homelessness, specifically the Sparrow’s Nest in Northwest Montana, which helps unaccompanied homeless high school students.
“It’s a shame that this organization has to exist because high school students don’t have a safe place to live,” he said. At night. “
Cindy Basnett said communities need to find ways to ensure that homeless people are following the rules while receiving support, but that doesn’t mean they’re being pushed aside. is not.
“When people can’t follow the rules, we need institutions to help them,” she said. “Not all homeless people break the rules, but it’s true that we need to keep people safe.”
Kyle Waterman told the commissioner that those being served at the shelter were locals.
“This has been a long-term problem with flatheads,” he said. “We need to allow locals to stay in the community.”
Ron Garson urged the commissioner to have a constructive conversation.
“We need guides and people working for this community,” he said. “We don’t need people trying to break community-built services. not.”
commissioner The letter says there is a correlation between the opening of low-barrier shelters and a “dramatic increase in homelessness.” Though not specifically named, Kalispell’s Flathead Warming Center is the community’s only low-barrier his shelter.
Holmquist remained a supporter of House of Samaria and praised the work done by the organization and the Flathead Warming Center to assist homeless people in shelters during the December cold spell.
“This unfairly portrays us as indifferent to all homeless people, which I don’t think is true,” she said of the letter. The problems and experiences that matter to us, we also represent them.”
Holmquist said he plans to lobby the state legislature to increase funding for mental health services, but said the county should not be in the business of building housing for people.
“I don’t think the state has done a really good job of funding mental health care, including mental health treatment facilities,” she said. and seek funding for mental health services, but we also have to contend with the new homeless coming here.”
Brodehl also echoed the need to increase mental health services in the valley, saying alcohol and drug use were contributing to the “temporary” increase here. He said arresting individuals would only underscore an already overcrowded county jail and “does nothing to help people who don’t want help.”
“We are not going to punish anyone,” he said in an email. Should we welcome this abuse of taxpayer dollars?Should we turn a blind eye to the risks and harm we face because the welcome mat is out? We are asking for your help in undoing the damage done today.”
Feature Editor Heidi Desch can be reached at 758-4421 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Reporter Adrian Knowler contributed to this article.