Voices: Homeless emergency needed to leverage shelter funds
The decision by the City of Missoula to declare a houselessness and shelter state of emergency was the right move to leverage funding to address the most basic of needs for those living unhoused: providing a safe, overnight shelter.
As Executive Director of Homeword, I added our voice to the chorus of leaders representing organizations that provide housing and houseless services asking city and county leaders to include funding for year-round emergency shelter in their FY24 budgets.
Missoula is witnessing an unprecedented explosion of urban camping after the emergency winter shelter closed in April 2023. We agree that this is not a problem for the government alone to solve. The issues causing houselessness are deeply complex and our response must be multi-pronged and holistic. While public and private resources should be spent to create this short-term solution, collectively we can put proven, long-term solutions into action too.
Right now, Homeword and partners at the Missoula Housing Authority and BlueLine Development are leasing up 202 apartments (known as Trinity Apartments) that offer rents truly affordable because they are deed-restricted to people earning approximately $10 - $20/hour. We’re doing this using the federal housing tax credit program in a public-private partnership. An innovative part of this project includes 30 apartments committed to the Housing First model – otherwise known as Permanent Supportive Housing. That means, these 30 homes are offered to people who have been houseless for years, without prerequisites and voluntary supportive services are offered to help improve housing stability and well-being. This is the most effective approach to ending houselessness for most individuals and families.
A navigation center has been built on the project site which provides essential physical and behavioral healthcare for people still experiencing houselessness. The intention is this place encourages connection to homes, job skills, mental health and addiction services. Importantly, the City of Missoula is the master lease holder for the Navigation Center, and it’s critical the City fulfill its obligation to provide operational needs for the space to open so service providers can provide their expert care.
This illustrates one of the many pieces of the puzzle that needs to come together to truly address barriers people face that keep them from succeeding with home stability. Because without the stability of a home, nothing else can take root.
I want to thank Mayor Hess for taking this step to provide immediate necessary public funding so our private service provider and housing partners can deliver safety and dignity for our neighbors.
Andrea Davis is a candidate for Missoula mayor.