Opinion: How we can end homelessness in Missoula now

Missoula’s “10-year Plan to End Homelessness” aims to have net-zero Missoulians becoming homeless, in other words as many people entering into homelessness as people leaving homelessness by the end of the city’s plan.

Yet the median income for Missoulian workers is less than $25,000/year, while barriers to finding affordable housing and meeting basic needs grow larger and larger. Most Missoulians are just a few steps away from losing secure housing already, and the 300-plus children, veterans, women and other people in our community who face homelessness each night deserve better than an eventual “net-zero.”

Our City Council must combat homelessness in our community with a far greater sense of empathy and urgency. 

Before all else, we must change our mindset. Police sweeps of camps, fences around the sheltered undersides of bridges, park benches designed in such a way they can’t be slept on: these aren’t solutions. We can’t address homelessness by hiding it from the public eye.

The anti-homeless architecture and the removal of our neighbors experiencing homeless from their tents must stop. These measures only push Missoulians experiencing homelessness further into the fringe of our community. Out of sight, out of mind will never be the answer. 

We need to provide wrap-around services that will help pull Missoulians out of homelessness while building a stronger safety net for our community. My name is Daniel Carlino, and I am running for City Council to ensure we do right by all of our citizens and work to truly end homelessness in Missoula.

Ending homelessness in our community will require us to take on the issue with a multi-faceted approach, employing both immediate and long-term solutions. Our City Council can provide immediate relief for Missoulians experiencing homelessness by taking the following actions:

  • Use part of the federal COVID relief funds Missoula received to open new long-term shelters.
  • Provide a safe parking area for people who are living in their cars and ensure the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space stays permanently available.
  • Send social workers or the Mobile Health Crisis Response Team instead of doing police sweeps on homeless camps.

Short-term responses aren’t enough, however. We must also address the root causes of housing instability: affordability and resources. We need to treat the lack of affordable housing as a public health issue, one with rippling effects on the physical and mental health of our citizens.

We must coordinate community partnerships to provide people experiencing homelessness with mental health care, treatment for substance abuse disorders, and other wrap-around services. City services must recognize the particular needs of our working families, women, people with disabilities, and other communities living in unstable housing. 

 Our City Council must take the following long-term actions to solve the root causes of homelessness in our community:

  • Fully fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund to prevent rent-burdened Missoulians from losing their housing.
  • Reform our TIF (Tax Increment Financing) funds to subsidize the development of long-term shelters, drug treatment centers, drop-in stabilization centers, and other community resources.
  • Create renter protections that will lower barriers to renting and help people stay in their rentals.
  • Invest in domestic violence prevention programs. 
  • Create a permanent Housing First Policy, providing housing and social services for unhoused people with no preconditions. 
  • Create a relocation assistance program to help evicted Missoulians secure new housing.

Missoulians experiencing homelessness are our neighbors and they need to be treated as such. When we uplift our neighbors who are struggling to meet their most basic needs, our community is then able to truly thrive as a whole. With resources, empathy, and a plan to provide wrap-around services, we can end homelessness in Missoula.