Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The City of Missoula may take on a greater role in addressing homelessness as it considers several million dollars in funding requests to open and operate a second shelter, provide security and trash collection, and to create a new plan on homelessness.

While the Office of Community Planning, Development and Innovation submitted some budget requests several weeks ago regarding other needs, it returned to the City Council on Wednesday to request more than $2 million in funding for homelessness.

“What you have before you really does represent the most urgent need that is being recommended by all of those (provider) groups,” said Dale Bickell, the city's CAO. “This budget does reflect the requests from that provider network as well as city staff recommendations.”

The requests includes the city's $800,000 share to open and operate the Johnson Street shelter for one year at a cost of $1.7 million. The county would cover the remaining $900,000.

Opening the shelter on a year-round basis was identified as the top priority by a team of homeless advocates created by the city, according to Eran Pehan, the city's planning director.

“We hope to finalize construction estimates, which will allow us to move ahead with the best path,” Pehan said of the shelter. “This is a temporary solution and will require ongoing conversations with the community about continued funding.”

With the shelter planning to reopen, the city will consider providing more than $667,000 in security costs and $359,000 to address urban camping. While it's already illegal to camp within city limits, city parks has been limiting enforcement to “engagement.”

Opening the second shelter also brings expectations that the city will enforce rules on urban camping. The funding within that $359,000 camping budget includes hiring a compliance officer at $100,000, providing $100,000 to Public Works to remove trash from certain locations, and $162,000 to address urban camping's impacts on parks, trails and riparian areas.

“We're trying to put together a comprehensive program that has been predominantly informed by our partners, including nonprofit service providers,” said parks Director Donna Gaukler. “This is the security our Missoula residents, both housed and unhoused, are seeking.”

The proposed budget additions also include nearly $300,000 to craft a new strategic plan around homelessness, to retain a homeless operations specialist, and to provide the start-up costs associated with the Trinity Navigation Center.

The latter is located at the new Trinity apartment complex on Mullan. However, the navigation center's opening may need an alignment of stars.

“There still are a lot of moving parts with the Trinity request,” said Pehan. “There are six or seven outstanding grants that would be required to be reward and received to move forward with the opening of the Trinity center. If those grants aren't awarded, we don't have a clear path toward opening.”

A pie chart showing the funding requests for homelessness in the city's FY24 budget.
A pie chart showing the funding requests for homelessness in the city's FY24 budget.
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While voters shot down a levy request last year to fund services required by the homeless, several members of City Council said they believe it's the role of local government to provide those services.

“I do believe that government needs to be the social safety net for particularly our houseless neighbors,” said council member Kristen Jordan. “I think the city and county need to play a key role in making sure we're looking after our vulnerable population.”

Like all other budget requests submitted over the past two months, the City Council is expected to begin paring down the requests as it debates what to fund and what to leave out.

Other than the shelter, city staff said local nonprofits that work in the homeless realm aren't able to provide the services themselves. As a result, they're looking to the taxpayers to pick up the tab.

“We've been in constant conversation with the service provider community about their capacity,” said Pehan. “At this point in time, not a single provider organization has the capacity to tip up any new programming beyond expanded shelter. We have no confidence that the provider community would have the capacity to open and operate a new program.”

Pehan added that housing is what's needed most if the city hopes to make a dent in homelessness.

“Homes are the real solution here. It's something we're working actively and aggressively on. We know homes are the real solution to houselessness in any community, and that's our long-term plan,” she said.

Additional FY24 budget stories

City's budget hinges on state's final tax numbers, coming Monday (missoulacurrent.com)

2024 Budget: Development and Planning seeks $1.5M in new requests (missoulacurrent.com)

MPD budget requests include digital evidence, crisis and wellness (missoulacurrent.com)

2024 Budget: Missoula fire reiterates need for new station (missoulacurrent.com)

Hess releases FY24 executive budget, details funding priorities (missoulacurrent.com)

City Council outlines budget process to avoid midnight meetings (missoulacurrent.com)

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