This month several Missoula nonprofit service providers, with the City of Missoula, will take the first steps in shifting to a Housing First approach. The goal of Housing First is to minimize the time people spend in shelters and costly transitional housing programs, instead focusing on permanent housing. The model is acknowledged nationwide for its effectiveness and is a key tenant of “Reaching Home: Missoula’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness.”

“The evidence in favor of getting people into houses quickly is overwhelming, and it’s a smart move for our community to move in this direction,” said Michael Moore, coordinator for Reaching Home. “The benefits are many, but getting people into housing quickly pays off for both those getting into housing and for the community. Cities using the Housing First model see high rates of success for folks staying in housing, and also see those folks becoming more self-sufficient sooner, which means less pressure on other community services.”

Currently, Missoula has very limited resources to support Housing First, which often comes in the form of rental deposit and tapered rental assistance, and supportive services. This will change in coming months as the Poverello Center, the YWCA and Women’s Opportunity and Resource Development (WORD) of Missoula work with the City of Missoula and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to consolidate and reallocate grant funds currently used to support their transitional housing programs. The resulting programs will transform several existing transitional housing units to permanent housing while creating a rental assistance program, which will be run by the YWCA and WORD, respectively.

The Poverello and the YWCA are reallocating a significant portion of the funding currently used for transitional housing to create a community fund that will provide deposit and short- and medium-term rental assistance to homeless families living on the streets or in emergency shelters. Economic barriers are the number one cause of family homelessness and the only reason many local families remain homeless. For these families, funds will now be available to rapidly move them from homelessness into permanent housing” Cindy Weese, Executive Director, YWCA Missoula.

Moving ahead, The Poverello Center will focus on serving homeless individuals through their emergency facility, Homeless Outreach Teams, and various veterans’ programs. They will also continue to operate their meal center that serves the larger community. Over the summer, The Poverello Center will work with partner agencies to transition The Joseph Residence at Maclay Commons from supportive housing dedicated to homeless families to low-income subsidized housing.

“The more we explored this as a community, the more it made sense to consolidate our grant with the YWCA,” said Eran Fowler Pehan, Executive Director of the Poverello Center. “The Maclay Commons apartments will continue to provide subsidized housing to low-income families and the YWCA will be able to use these funds to immediately house families. Combining our efforts eliminates the costly duplication of administrative and staffing costs, ensuring every possible dollar to goes directly to families in need. This is better for families and for the community. It’s truly a win-win situation”.

Maclay Commons, the current home of the Joseph Residence, is operated by Missoula Housing Authority and is one of many subsidized housing programs in Missoula. As the Poverello Center transitions their program, families will have the ability to remain in their apartments permanently, something that was not possible when it was operated as transitional housing.

“Missoula Housing Authority is pleased to be part of the implementation of the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness. We are already operating two very successful programs using the Housing First model so we know it works. Shelter Plus Care currently provides 112 permanent housing subsidies for formerly homeless persons, and the Uptown Apartments provide homes for 14 more. This transition is a clear illustration of the cooperative efforts on every level to address the urgent housing needs in our community.” Lori Davidson, Executive Director of Missoula Housing Authority.

In addition to the collaboration between The Poverello Center and the YWCA, the City of Missoula, through its HUD-funded Home Investment Partnerships (HOME) program, has awarded $50,000 each to Women’s Opportunity Resource Development (WORD) and the Human Resource Council to create a tenant-based rental assistance (TBRA) program in Missoula. The program will provide security and utility deposits, as well as some partial assistance for rent, to low-income residents who live within the City limits.

“One of the priorities of the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness was to provide tenant-based rental assistance, and the new TBRA program does just that. TBRA started in the last weeks of December at WORD and we’re already serving those in need. For many, making the transition to permanent housing is impossible without that first bit of help to pay initial deposit costs and to get a little help with rent. TBRA is a crucial part of getting people into stable housing,” said Nancy Harte, Senior Grants Administrator with Missoula City/County Dept. of Grants and Community Programs.