Assistance for homeless families and victims of domestic violence is several shovels of dirt closer to reality after the Missoula YWCA and the Interfaith Collaborative held a ceremonial groundbreaking Wednesday morning to launch construction of a new shelter at 1800 South Third Street West.
“Family homelessness is a significant issue in Missoula, and many families are slipping through the cracks,” said Missoula YWCA executive director Cindy Weese. “It’s unacceptable for families to be sleeping in the street. These are families in our community with children who, whether due to domestic violence, unaffordable rent or loss of employment, suddenly find themselves with no place to go. We knew we could do better and we need to do better. It’s time to build these families a better solution.”
According the YWCA, in Missoula there may be 50 homeless families, including 100 children, unsheltered on any given night. Weese said domestic violence is the No. 1 cause of family homelessness in Missoula.
“This vision, in Missoula, to create a reality that if someone needs housing and is fleeing from domestic violence, that they have a safe place to go, is both simple and profound,” said Casey Dunning, executive director of the Interfaith Collaborative.
Weese said the shelter will be called “The Meadowlark.”
“It’s not only our state bird,” she said, “but in native lore it is a sign of peace, safety and better times ahead.”
Before the groundbreaking, Weese took time to recognize that the new facility will be built on land that was once the home of the Salish, and invited Patrick Matt Jr. of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe’s Families First Center to talk about the history, and offer a prayer and a song.
The 36,750-square-foot facility will house YWCA Missoula’s programs and offices, an expanded domestic violence shelter, and an emergency housing center for homeless families. This will be the first facility in Missoula to provide same-day access to emergency shelter for families with children and will include bedrooms, kitchens, dining areas, lounges, toddler play areas, activity rooms, locker rooms and health care in a safe, secure environment. It is expected to open in about 14 months.
According to the YWCA, homelessness has a profound and often lasting impact on the emotional and physical health of children. Homelessness is linked to low birth weight, malnutrition, poor physical and mental health, and missed educational opportunities.
“This project is a powerful lesson of who we are as a community and who we are as individuals,” said Colin Woodrow from the Missoula Office of Housing and Community Development.
The YWCA has outgrown its existing domestic violence shelter. It is too small, in need of updates, and lacks optimal security features.
The YWCA and Interfaith Collaborative launched the public phase of the project’s capital campaign in July, and have already raised $6.7 million, or 84 percent of its $8 million goal.
“I am confident we can raise the rest as we construct our new facility,” Weese said.
The groundbreaking ceremony included recognition of community member and campaign co-chair Kathy Veazy for her $1.1 million contribution to the project, as well as a $1 million contribution from two lead donors who have chosen to remain anonymous.
The project has also received two Community Development Block Grants: one from the city, and one from the state.
“This project directly impacts the unmet need in Missoula to shelter and feed the most vulnerable of the community’s homeless population,” wrote Missoula Redevelopment Agency assistant director Chris Behan in a memo regarding the project. “It will not erase the problem, as there is an average of 50 homeless families each night in Missoula and this project can shelter 31 of them. However, it is a major step to protecting families with children and both individuals and families who are the victims of domestic violence.”