So many Missoula families are homeless that two local groups are in the early stages of planning a permanent emergency shelter dedicated to that need, City Council members learned this week.

One after another, Missoula social service and nonprofit groups came before the council to talk about the plight of homeless individuals and families – and their organization’s need for a share of Missoula's 2018 Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnership allocations.

Those specific requests, totaling $1.5 million, already had been vetted by a committee and were unanimously approved by the City Council on Monday night.

But even larger needs are on the horizon, notably a homeless shelter that focuses on families, said representatives of the YWCA and Missoula Interfaith Collaborative.

Cindy Weese, the Missoula YWCA’s executive director, said Ada’s Place has provided emergency shelter for homeless families in local hotel rooms since 2009, but cannot keep up with the increasing cost of those rooms.

This past year, she said, the nightly cost charged the YWCA “went up 38 percent overnight.” That increase will consume all of the group’s CDBG allocation for 2018 – meaning no additional families can be helped.

“We have no other option,” Weese said. “Last year alone, 244 children lived in those hotel rooms.”

The program is a proven success at helping one- and two-parent families make the transition from homelessness. Eighty percent of the families helped by Ada’s Place last year moved into permanent housing, she said.

So the YWCA is looking for a family housing center that could serve at least 31 families at a time as they move from homelessness to stability, according to Weese.

Similar shelters already exist in Kalispell, Great Falls and Billings. In Great Falls, up to 34 families are housed each night, and many stay three and four months as they work toward long-term housing in the community.

Joining the YWCA in that quest is the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative, a group of 32 local congregations that now provide temporary housing for homeless families through the Family Promise program.

Those families are housed in churches throughout Missoula, one week at a time, where they are given rooms, meals and help connecting with social service organizations.

Casey Dunning, the Interfaith Collaborative’s executive director, said the plight of homeless families in Missoula has reached a “crisis” point. “That’s why this effort is so important to us,” he told City Council members.

But Dunning said his group is confident that a family shelter can be found to meet the ever-growing need.

“The collaboration that has come out of this can be leveraged into great things,” he said.

In fact, Ward 1 City Council member Bryan von Lossberg said his work reviewing this year’s CDBG and HOME applications gave him confidence in the ability and professionalism of many local housing and social service organizations.

The projects approved were solid and well managed, he said. “It’s heartening to see how well-run and competently staffed these organizations are – and their ability to execute these projects.”

Ward 5 Councilwoman Julie Armstrong said the work represented by the grant awards “makes me happy I ran for council in the first place.”

Here is the list of projects approved Monday night for the federal monies:

HOME projects

  1. Homeword Inc., HOME grant of $61,500 for land acquisition to place small manufactured homes in central Missoula neighborhoods targeting households earning up to 120 percent average mean income.
  2. Missoula Housing Authority, HOME Loan of $745,000 to support the construction of the Villagio, a 200-unit affordable housing development for low- to moderate-income renters.

CDBG Housing and Public Improvements

  1. NeighborWorks MT, CDBG Grant of $65,000 to provide public improvements to River Acres, a 31-home resident-owned manufactured home community in Missoula.
  2. YWCA of Missoula, CDBG grant of $350,000 to support the YWCA Facility Expansion.

CDBG Public Services

  1. Homeword Inc., CDBG grant of $25,000 to support HomeOwnership Center programs.
  2. Missoula Aging Services, CDBG grant of $20,000 to provide low- to moderate-income seniors with Care Transition Community Support.
  3. Poverello Center, CDBG grant of $30,000 to support Rapid Intake and Housing Retention.
  4. YWCA of Missoula, CDBG grant of $25,000 to provide emergency shelter for homeless families through the Ada’s Place Emergency Housing Program.