Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) City and county officials on Monday called upon communities of faith to step up and play a stronger role in helping Missoula address the basic needs of its homeless population.

In response to a question during Monday’s annual State of the Community address, Missoula County Commission Dave Strohmaier and Mayor Andrea Davis said that while local government can seek the resources needed to help address homelessness, it can’t do the work alone.

“Folks who are in this extraordinarily challenging situation, one of the things they’re lacking the most is a connection from you and I,” said Davis. “It illustrates some very poignant stories around the amount of dignity that has been stripped from people over the course of their life in the circumstance they’re in.”

Davis upon her election as mayor convened a working group to explore solutions, accountability and services for the city’s homeless population – and the issues around urban camping. While recommendations are forthcoming, some early ideas have emerged.

Among them, Davis said other communities have called upon their faith organizations to play a stronger role. Many religious establishments in Missoula have large parking lots that could be used as a safe parking program.

“In a coordinated effort, a small number of folks could access that parking lot through overnight stays,” Davis said. “That would be in coordination with local government, but it gets the private sector stepping forward.”

Religious buildings could also offer some basic services in such a program including a bathroom, a shower and trash receptacles. But even more, it provides a connection with other people.

Davis added that private fundraising could aid such an endeavor.

“I understand your frustration and I have it too,” she said. “Sometimes I just need a reminder to the fact that these are human beings in one of the toughest circumstances of their lives, and maybe in their children’s lives.”

Strohmaier shared similar thoughts, saying Missoula must move beyond the debate of a hand-out versus a hand up. Rather, he said, “just put out your stinking hand and try to help one another.”

The issues around homelessness and the challenges it presents to local communities isn’t unique to Missoula, he said. It’s also a state, regional and national challenge. Calling on faith communities has been successful in other cities.

“There is opportunity there,” he said. “One of the real success stories we’ve seen over the past few years is the temporary safe outdoor space. The Hope Rescue Mission has shown a model of how a community of folks united around a faith vision can work with local government to really impact folks in a meaningful way.”

The United Way of Missoula County helped establish the first temporary safe outdoor space during the pandemic and the practice has evolved each season. Strohmaier said the current model has shown a 64% success rate in moving people from temporary shelter to permanent housing.

“That’s a huge success story, and it wouldn’t be the case if not for a faith community in Missoula stepping up,” he said.

Inside Look at the New TSOS Shelters

The Temporary Safe Outdoor Space new hard-sided shelter facility officially opened on Thursday, January 5. The TSOS is just off West Broadway near the new Trinity affordable housing complex.

Gallery Credit: Nick Chrestenson

The Missoula Current is a Montana owned and operated news organization founded in 2015 to help fill the void in local journalism, and we've been free to read ever since. If you would like to read the original article, click here.