Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Missoula City Council member and mayoral candidate Mike Nugent on Wednesday released a multi-pronged approach that he believes will provide both short- and long-term solutions to the city's homeless challenge.

As Montana's homeless issue grows more acute and visible – and with municipal races rapidly approaching – solutions to homelessness will likely play a central role in this year's elections.

"Homelessness is a pressing issue that requires immediate attention and long-term solutions," Nugent said. "My referral aims to address the immediate needs of our homeless population while also implementing sustainable strategies to prevent and reduce homelessness in the long run.”

Among the short-term and immediate solutions, Nugent is urging the city to identify a publicly-owned parcel that could serve as a safe nighttime sleeping area. He's asking city staff to create a plan around the approach and present any related costs to the City Council for consideration.

He's also asking staff to present other solutions that have been discussed but not implemented. His plan calls for a housing first strategy, one that gives priority to finding permanent housing for the homeless.

“It's a critical first step,” Nugent said. “By securing stable housing for vulnerable individuals, Missoula can create a foundation for their overall well-being.”

With budget season at hand, Nugent and several other council members are looking to fully fund the Mobile Support Team and other programs seen as vital. Funding could come from city reserves, assessments to park districts, or the declaration of a public emergency, which would allow the city to issue 2 mills to fund its homeless efforts.

City Council leadership has said this year's municipal budget will be a challenging, and some programs and solutions aimed at homelessness may be difficult to fund without a novel approach. Implementing solutions will require broad partnerships and an open mind, Nugent said.

“For the pressing needs today, we need to get creative. We do have reserves at the city and in my opinion, this is an emergency worth discussing those funds,” Nugent said. “We also have some remaining ARPA funds that could be used, as does the county. It's clear we have to provide leadership and find solutions to manage this crisis, as it's right in front of us.”

Drug needles left by a dumpster in Missoula. (Courtesy photo)
Drug needles left by a dumpster in Missoula. (Courtesy photo)

While short-term solutions can help in the moment, homeless advocates have said long-term projects will be needed if the city hopes to reduce its rate of homelessness. That includes the provision of housing, job skills, and mental health and addiction services.

This year, with support from the city and county, two permanently affordable housing projects have opened to residents in the Villagio and Trinity. Together, the two developments provide around 400 units, including 30 units reserved for the chronically homeless.

But building the Villagio and Trinity cost more than $50 million. While Nugent has proposed a capital campaign to help fund more shelter space, building similar housing projects would require a private partner with access to Low Income Housing Tax Credits.

Mike Nugent speaks with the public. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)
Mike Nugent speaks with the public. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

“For the more long-term focused strategies, the city won't be able to do this alone. We have to rely on our partners in the private and nonprofit sector to help us select the best solutions.”

Nugent said inaction around the homeless crisis has shifted the public conversation to extremes. He said the city and its partners can find compassionate solutions while ensuring public resources like parks and trails remain safe and accessible to the public.

“To prevent this crisis from reappearing every year, we must focus on long-term strategies that focus on housing, job skills and development, and personal accountability,” he said. “Rather than spending exorbitantly each year to triage issues, we need to focus on ways to change the outcomes.”

Note: The Missoula Current has also interviewed Mayor Jordan Hess and will run the story on Thursday.