James Dobson

(KPAX) The Missoula Economic Partnership (MEP) recently released a report called ‘The Economic Impact of Homelessness in Missoula’ in which data is used to put a price tag on the issue.

The report asserts that homelessness in Missoula has remained relatively stable in the city since 2019, but will continue to be a problem unless several systemic investments are made.

The report, authored by Bryce Ward, founder of ABMJ Consulting, was funded in part by MEP, Villagio Development Team, United Way of Missoula, Hope Rescue Mission, City of Missoula, and Missoula County.

In the summary, Ward writes, “Specifically, this report aims to help Missoulians understand the impact of homelessness on the community and the range of options for addressing this problem."

The report provides answers to three essential questions:

  1. How large is Missoula’s homeless population, how has it changed over time, and how does it compare to other places?
  2. What are the economic costs of homelessness?
  3. Who experiences homelessness, why, and what can be done to reduce homelessness and its adverse effects on the community?”

Key findings of the report shine a light on common misconceptions the public has about homelessness in the city, including that unhoused people come to the town from different cities and states. National studies found that 75% of homeless people live in the same community where they were previously housed and 90% stay in the same state.

Ward writes that the cost of homelessness tends to land on these same groups.

“While it is true that people experiencing homelessness move around more than housed populations, migration tends to entail intra-regional migration from rural areas without services to urban areas with services or people returning to their hometowns (or places where they have other social ties) to have greater access to family/friends. As such, most of the local homeless population are members of the community, and the burdens of homelessness should be included as costs to the community.”

Drug needles near a Missoula park occupied by urban campers. (Courtesy photo)
Drug needles near a Missoula park occupied by urban campers. (Courtesy photo)

Another finding shared from the report was that the rate of chronic homelessness in Missoula is around 0.29%, a lower number than both Billings and Butte — although the report shares several challenges in reaching an accurate number.

With the main focus of the report being the economic burden of the issue, MEP laid out several important numbers to note.

The City of Missoula and Missoula County spend around $4 million combined on programs for the homeless population. This includes the Johnson Street Shelter, the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space, camp cleanups, as well as paying first responders to handle incidents.

Another cost is medical expenses, as they can range from $7,000 to $10,000 each year per person. Ward writes this about the community burden:

“Homelessness also imposes significant costs on others in the community. The prevalence of homelessness affects the quality of life and the level of economic activity in the community. Homelessness creates disorder, crime, and other risks to public health and safety. As such, the community faces significant costs associated with property damage, crime victimization, and the fiscal costs to taxpayers associated with managing/mitigating the costs of homelessness (which are thousands of dollars per homeless per year).”

MEP does suggest some solutions to the problem, primarily focused on Improving access to truly affordable housing, providing more generous government support, and improving access to training and healthcare.

The full report can be read here.