Most people consider The Outlaw to be an eyesore, a cesspool full of drug dealers and in general, the dredges of society. I know this because I have heard that, or something similar, from almost every person I have ever spoken to about the place since my move to the Flathead Valley in 2004. So, two years ago, when my husband left, and I could no longer afford the rent for our beautiful downtown Kalispell house; I was horrified to suddenly find myself becoming a resident there. It was unbelievable to me that somehow the dilapidated hotel with its extended stay rates had become my only option.
For months, I had tried in vain to find some place better for me, my son and my seventy-five-year-old father. As I watched our savings dwindle to nothing, I became more and more desperate. Each day I scoured local classified ads, in addition to Facebook, Craigslist and every website or mobile app that possibly posted rental properties for NW Montana. I asked friends, family, and coworkers if they knew of any pet-friendly rental available. All I kept hearing was ‘No, sorry. But I will let you know if I hear of anything’. I tried a ‘Searching for’ post on social media, but quickly realized that there were dozens of desperate people looking for rentals just like I was, many of them had far more to spend than me.
It was out of sheer desperation I ended up turning to The Outlaw. It was a truly humbling experience, to say the least. I really never thought I would actually end up there. I had thought there was going to be some last-minute miracle that would happen that would save me from this fate. To me this was the worst possible place my family and I could possibly end up. My dad looked at the whole situation differently. Because, though I was in denial about what was happening, he was not. He wasn’t worried about the place’s reputation, he was worried about us ending up living in our car. It was the beginning of January in NW Montana, sleeping in our car was a far worse option. I had to admit that compared to that scenario, this place was at least warm and for that, I was thankful.
On the day we moved in, I kept my head down. Trying to avoid eye contact with anybody who might be watching. Despite this, a man said hello as we passed him in the hall. When he asked how we were doing, I was forced to answer. Deciding for once to be honest instead of polite I answered “Okay. I guess. In shock, but okay…” The man chuckled and said “Yeah? Join the club” or something along those lines. It was the first time I realized that the people living here were all in the same boat. Nobody thought they would end up here, but when faced with this place or living on the street, most people were grateful to have a roof over their head. This place is the last resort for a lot of people. People who love their pets and don’t want to lose them and people unable to afford the ever-rising rental costs of the valley.
The residents of The Fairbridge Anex are young couples with small children and senior citizens on Social Security and people with disabilities, people in the service industry making minimum wage.
They are not criminals.. They are people who pay their rent. They are people who support each other, who come together for any of us who need it.. These people are residents of this town.
Now these people are being tossed aside like garbage. While these out of state powers lie and say we don’t exist, or that there are so many empty hotel rooms in the valley right now that this eviction is just an inconvenience because we are just hotel guests. But it is not just an inconvenience, we are not guests. We are tenants. This place is our home, and these people have no place to go.
And what is going to happen is that many of them will stay at the Fairbridge until law enforcement physically makes them leave. Some will try to go to family to help. Others who have enough money will try local motels, at least for a short time. (Though that is near impossible for anybody with a local address. Because as any hotel employee will tell you -off the record of course, the number one rule is you don’t rent to anybody with a local address) I have worked at two of the local hotels and that was the first thing I was taught. But even if they can somehow get around that roadblock, they won’t be able to afford any local hotel for very long. Nobody will be allowed to stay once tourist season starts. Because everyone knows that is when the rates skyrocket.
But in the meantime, the rest of the residents, after they leave here, are going to fill the Samaritan House and the rest will camp out in their cars. The ones without a vehicle will then find whatever public area they can that may provide shelter from the cold, then they will camp in doorways and on park benches. These people will become a problem for the entire town.
If the town wants to keep the homeless population from exploding in the immediate future, something should be done. I beg the City Council to revoke the permits it approved for this project. Because despite what was said by Kalispell Development Service Director Jarod Nygren, the Annex portion of Fairbridge is currently acting as a multifamily dwelling. Allowing this place to shut its doors with the rental market being what it is, will hurt this town.
There have been multiple offers made by local community outreach organizations trying their best to help the people of Fairbridge. Any of them have the potential to help us and possibly even some of the people that are already homeless. Which if you all realize or not would help local business owners. Because there is one thing everyone in Kalispell should keep in mind. These will be the people on the streets and in the parks and loitering in downtown businesses. They will affect sales and tourism dollars. So, I urge the people of Kalispell to consider this, if the number of homeless possibly doubles in the next few weeks, what will it mean for the town?
When this place closes its doors, the residents of Fairbridge will go from being citizens that work and contribute to society, to being a problem. A problem that this town is ill equipped to deal with at its present size,let alone what it will be like at double.
Despite what people think, homeless people (for the most part) don’t actually choose to be homeless — most of them people who were once normal citizens like the residents of Fairbridge. People who for one reason or another lost their home. They didn’t plan on it. They don’t choose to be homeless. Life didn’t go as planned.
Now, this is what is going to happen right in front of your eyes. You are going to see regular citizens become this. Then they are going to have to be dealt with. Soon it will be everybody’s problem.
Crystal Dittrich lives in Kalispell.