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Missoula County: Addressing homelessness requires strong nonprofit partnerships

Recent claims contend Missoula County officials are trying to keep our constituents in the dark by working with private nonprofits to find solutions to the homelessness crisis, presumably to avoid public involvement and input.

Putting aside the cherry-picked narrative, the fact is that Missoula County has collaborated with United Way, and many other community partners, in numerous capacities over the years, including on issues like homelessness.

These partners often have the expertise and relationships necessary for finding solutions to complicated problems, and these collaborations ensure we work toward solutions as efficiently and effectively as possible without duplicating efforts.

If solving homelessness were easy, we would have done it already. The reality is that homelessness is complicated, and people find themselves without a home for numerous reasons. As we work toward community-wide solutions to homelessness, both short- and long-term, we must consider the perspective of those who’ve experienced it, not just assume we can find the answers on our own.

The county’s community partners, which include agencies like United Way and Hope Rescue Mission, have developed trusting relationships with these folks. The vulnerable, emotional conversations that must take place for us to get below the surface and to the root of the issue can only occur in an environment of comfort and trust.

We had the privilege of hearing some of these stories first-hand during the most recent public forum on the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space, where several residents spoke about how the space is helping them get back on their feet and into permanent housing and the workforce. We applaud these individuals for sharing their experiences in such a contentious setting. It’s not reasonable or compassionate, though, to expect those experiencing homelessness to share their personal stories with a public audience at every turn.

We’re grateful for these individuals who share their experiences, as well as for the staff, both public and private, who work hard to develop and maintain their trust. Knowing them and their stories have helped our community develop effective strategies like the TSOS, about which the county has held four public meetings since it was announced in November.

Any future proposals these conversations help inform will be brought to commissioners in a public setting for input and consideration.

Regarding public process in general: Missoula County employs or partners with hundreds of hard-working staff with particular expertise who are tasked with generating solutions, the best of which they bring to commissioners for public consideration.

Brainstorming takes place among those staff all the time, but many of those ideas won’t see the light of day beyond an initial conversation, let alone be recommended as policy for elected officials to consider during a public proceeding.

Providing space for staff and partners to cultivate, exchange and refine ideas that may or may not grow into serious proposals is not contrary to the ideals of open government.

As for the good ideas that do bubble to the top: Staff regularly update commissioners on those during public department meetings, schedules and agendas for which are available at missoula.co/bccmeetings.

There, you’ll also find schedules and agendas for the open meetings where commissioners hear public comment and take action to implement policies and solutions. We invite constituents to attend these sessions to listen, provide feedback and become a partner in our solution-oriented progress.

Signed,

Dave Strohmaier, Juanita Vero and Josh Slotnick; Missoula County Commissioners

Chris Lounsbury; Chief Administrative Officer, Missoula County

Susan Hay Patrick; Chief Executive Officer, United Way of Missoula County

Jim Hicks; Executive Director, Hope Rescue Mission