Claire Peterson

(KPAX) Houselessness and lack of affordable housing across Montana are no secret, but solutions to the issue are not free.

The Missoula Housing Authority (MHA) was among 23 Montana programs that received funds from the Continuum of Care Awards (CoC) federal grant program through the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

The CoC Awards are meant to support programs that are working to get homeless Americans into permanent housing. HUD awarded $3.2 billion nationwide, and $5.5 million to Montana.

MHA applies for the CoC Awards every year, and due to its rank as a high-quality program, typically receives some sort of funding. Still, the grant is a competitive application process for the state, according to Jim McGrath, MHA director of HUD programming.

“It is competing Montana and all of our communities against everywhere else in the country — California, San Diego, New York City, Illinois,” he says. “It’s very very competitive, and it’s a challenge for little rural Montana to compete against those kind of players."

MHA was one of three programs in Missoula to receive Continuum of Care funds. Their awarded $1,15 million will go towards the Permanent Supportive Housing Voucher Program, which combines rent support with mental or physical health support for houseless Missoulians with disabilities.

“Some folks, even if you give them housing, are not going to be able to maintain it, unless they have extra support,” McGrath says. “For some folks, they have a lot of physical or other disabling needs, that really need that extra support. And the best way to do that is in a program like this with a permanent supportive housing.”

The voucher program helps house 98 individuals and/or families in Missoula. The extra CoC funding will make it possible for MHA to continue the support, even through rent increases.

“It’d be a trainwreck if we didn’t get them again,” McGrath says.

The people enrolled in the Permanent Supportive Housing Voucher Program are connected with one of the over 300 landlords in Missoula that accept rent vouchers.

While there are 30 residents within an MHA housing complex, the voucher holders are able to choose where they’d like to live. MHA also accommodates growing families and those who need multiple bedrooms or larger spaces.

The residents are asked to use 30% of their income for rent, and MHA covers the rest. MHA will also pay for deposits or possible damages.

“Homelessness is something that the community sees every day and recognizes as a big issue,” McGrath says. “The way to solve it is to get people into permanent housing.”

While McGrath is thrilled that MHA received the CoC funds once again, he is most excited to see other Montana communities see some support.

Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Hamilton, Helena, Kalispell, Browning and Glendive are the nine other Montana communities that received grant money. McGrath said the expanded services across the state will in turn help grow support in each individual community.

“This year we were able to get every single project that applied at the state awarded, which is really, almost impossible at the federal level,” McGrath said. “And so we did really successful. It’s very important to be able to grow the program around the state in different communities because obviously, the need is all over the state.”