Kalispell Exhibit Aims to Debunk Homeless Stereotypes

Busting stereotypes about the homeless is the goal behind an exhibit featuring the work of a photographer Heidi Long, and Kalispell Middle School students.

Tom Danison came to the Flathead in September of last year. He had a friend out in Marion, west of Kalispell to stay with.  The thing is, Danison would be looking for work in Kalispell, and Marion is 20-plus miles outside of town and “I didn’t have transportation, first of all, and second of all I didn’t know where I was going. So, I thought if I get to downtown Kalispell, in a shelter, I can walk, learn where everything is,” Danison said.

Danison is a former marine. He went to the Kalispell shelter at the Samaritan House where he was connected with many other programs to help him out.

“I come down to the Samaritan House and – ‘oh, you gotta’ go do this, and you’ve got to go do this, and you’ve got your medical and you’ve got your dental,’ and it’s like oh, lord,” Danison said. “So, the next thing you know I was doing all my, setting up all my appointments for my eyeglasses and dental, medical, HUD housing, vouchers.” He’s working on a book, historical fiction based in the Kalispell area. He says he’s almost done with the dental work and will be looking for a job.

Tom Danison is one of the portraits on the wall as part of the exhibit titled “Who Cares”. Photographer Heidi Long took the black and white portraits, “each little blurb gives just a little bit of information about why they ended up at the shelter, or, maybe something people don’t think about when they think about homelessness,” Long said, “who we serve at the shelter are people who are trying to help themselves.”

Kalispell Middle School 7th grader Stephanie Woodland’s essay is one of many hanging on the walls of the first floor of the museum. She wrote her essay after interviewing some of the people working at the Samaritan House, “I wrote about pretty much what it does for the people there. The opportunities it gives them, how it can really affect their lives. Also, it has some facts and figures about, like, how that whole stereotype are considered to be ‘that guy’ under the bench who has a very unclean shave, and who might be an alcoholic,” Woodland said working on this project helped her see past stereotypes.

“I think everyone really needs to learn what being homeless really means, and that it doesn’t always mean that… you’re unintelligent, or you haven’t worked for it, or that you haven’t really tried in life, it’s just, sometimes, things happen, and you end up homeless,” Woodland said.

Posters are also hung up along the walls with the words “Shelter is…” followed by different definitions, pictures, and drawings. “What it means, is what shelter is to you; like how shelter is a home, a family, somewhere you can hide,” said 7th grader Hannah McCann.

Celina Purvis describes shelter as “a warm blanket that you’ve had your entire life, and cuddle with every night, something you feel like protects you, and something you feel like is always going to be there for you.”

The free exhibit will remain at the Museum at Central School in Kalispell until August. The Museum is open Monday through Friday from 10 until 5.

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