By Martin Kidston

The Missoula County commissioners on Tuesday approved a $46,000 funding request to help the Salvation Army assist those in need with winter emergencies, from paying a steep heating bill to covering a portion of rent when money is tight.

Leslie McClintock, a grants administrator with Missoula County, said the Winter Shelter Program was established in 1996 to provide emergency funding for basic financial needs between the months of November and March.

The funding comes from the county's Community Assistance Fund.

“If someone is in the program and can't pay their rent, or is losing their housing because of a one-time medical bill, a heating bill, or they don't have the deposit to get into housing, these funds will pay for that,” said McClintock. “The main goal, when we started it, was to keep people from becoming homeless during the winter and freezing on the streets.”

Last year, the fund helped 150 local families cover emergency expenses in an effort to keep them sheltered during the winter months. The average amount distributed to any single person is roughly $320, McClintock said.

Help with high winter utility bills is typically the foremost need, she added.

“There's a lot of homeless families or families that would be made homeless, and that would put a great strain on the Poverello and the YWCA,” she said. “There's also a danger of people being homeless in the winter and freezing out there.”

The Community Assistance Fund lies within the county's general fund and is earmarked for basic needs in human services. The county also approved a separate $14,000 request from the same fund to aid the Salvation Army with its transportation program.

That program helps cover the cost of emergency transportation, including victims of domestic violence.

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