[Hpn] Canvass finds 551 homeless in Missoula

William C. Tinker wtinker@verizon.net
Tue, 17 Apr 2007 15:44:32 -0400


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Canvass finds 551 homeless in Missoula


By TYLER CHRISTENSEN of the Missoulian

      =
http://www.missoulian.com/articles/2007/04/17/news/local/news02.txt  =20

On a cold snowy day in January, a network of social service workers =
canvassed Missoula with the goal of taking a snapshot of the homeless =
population - by any account a difficult population to reach, let alone =
measure.

They found that, despite the 16-degree weather, 67 homeless people =
planned to spend the night outdoors or in a parked car. Others qualified =
for a bed at one of Missoula's shelters, and hundreds more would sleep =
on the floors and couches of friends and family.

In all, they talked to 551 homeless people in Missoula, a 65 percent =
increase over their first point-in-time survey in 2005. More than half - =
54 percent - were family members with children.

When most people think of a homeless person, they tend to picture a man =
with a large backpack and a cardboard sign, said Jane Guest, a case =
manager with the Salvation Army. The reality is, Missoula's homeless are =
men, women and children. Many are disabled, or ill. Many have lived and =
worked in Missoula for years - and, in fact, may be working still.

"We are seeing now probably more of the working poor," Guest said. =
"(They) live on a shoestring, from paycheck to paycheck."

Guest was among the volunteers who braved the bad weather to visit the =
places where Missoula's homeless gather. While collecting survey =
information, Guest's group also passed out sack lunches, winter coats, =
gloves, hats and personal hygiene items.

The point-in-time survey was spearheaded by the Missoula At-Risk Housing =
Coalition, or ARHC, a task force of representatives from various human =
service agencies, and administered by these agencies and volunteers at =
their locations and at known homeless camps.

Given the difficulty of tracking homeless families in Missoula, it's =
hard to know whether the new numbers mark an actual increase in =
Missoula's homeless population or if they're a reflection of some other =
variable in survey methods, cautioned Melissa Wangler Gordon, a grants =
administrator for the Missoula County Office of Planning and Grants.

Still, several homeless service providers say the survey's findings echo =
the growth in demand they've seen. Others say the numbers might actually =
be too low.

Despite record-low unemployment rates and soaring per-capita personal =
income, the survey shows Missoula's proportion of homeless individuals =
continues to grow. In fact, with 26 percent of the state's 2,114 =
homeless, Missoula may have the largest proportion of homeless in =
Montana, Gordon said.

Some of Missoula's homeless are seeking escape from domestic violence, =
or struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, or mental illness. ARHC's =
report found that nearly half the local homeless population had "serious =
disabilities."

But it also found that 33 percent were employed, and more than half the =
current homeless population had rented or owned their own home before =
they became unemployed.

Guest believes this points to the number of working poor whose families =
are one paycheck away from homelessness.

"This is definitely very true of single parent families, but it's also =
hard with the double income families," Guest said. "It's hard to make a =
living here."

The survey found 97 homeless families, including 91 homeless children 6 =
years old or younger, and nearly 150 homeless children between the ages =
of 7 and 14.

Kristi Gough of WORD's Family BASICS Program added that 300 homeless =
children in Missoula County Public School District No. 1 were identified =
for services this year through the McKinney Homeless Education =
Assistance Program, which provides bus transportation, school supplies =
and tutoring services - as well as case management services for their =
families.

Missoula has a sizable number of caring individuals and organizations, =
Guest pointed out. It has the Poverello Center, Missoula 3:16, Missoula =
Food Bank, the YMCA and a host of other groups, she said, and while =
they're all doing their best, it's still not enough.

For its part, the Salvation Army offers laundry facilities, clothing =
vouchers, showers and a food pantry, and takes part in a program that =
provides temporary lodging for homeless families. The program, Guest =
explained, provides up to 45 days at a local motel, which gives families =
some time to find a job or a rental, or perhaps just wait for their =
assistance paperwork to go through.

While it's a much-needed framework, she said, Missoula could really use =
an emergency shelter dedicated to meeting the needs of homeless =
families.

The Poverello Center is western Montana's largest homeless shelter and =
soup kitchen, said executive director Ellie Boldman Hill. It provides =
beds for 80 people a night and feeds 250 people a day, she added - but =
it is set up for homeless individuals, not for families with children.

"The Pov literally turns people away every week, families with kids," =
Hill said.

Most people still associate homelessness with "hobos of the days of =
old," she said, but only about 20 percent of the Pov's visitors are =
transient males facing long-term homelessness. The other 80 percent are =
the working poor, the elderly and the infirm. By and large they are =
seeking temporary assistance while they get back on their feet.

These are the people, she said, you could pass on the street and never =
realize were homeless.

Reporter Tyler Christensen can be reached at 523-5215 or =
tyler.christensen@lee.net=20

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<P><SPAN class=3D"detailheadline style9"><STRONG>Canvass finds 551 =
homeless in=20
Missoula</STRONG></SPAN></P>
<P><SPAN class=3D"detailheadline =
style9"><STRONG></STRONG></SPAN><BR><SPAN=20
class=3Ddetailbyline><EM>By TYLER CHRISTENSEN of the =
Missoulian</EM></SPAN></P>
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    <TD><FONT face=3DArial size=3D2><A=20
      =
href=3D"http://www.missoulian.com/articles/2007/04/17/news/local/news02.t=
xt">http://www.missoulian.com/articles/2007/04/17/news/local/news02.txt</=
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<P><SPAN class=3Ddetailstory>On a cold snowy day in January, a network =
of social=20
service workers canvassed Missoula with the goal of taking a snapshot of =
the=20
homeless population - by any account a difficult population to reach, =
let alone=20
measure.<BR><BR>They found that, despite the 16-degree weather, 67 =
homeless=20
people planned to spend the night outdoors or in a parked car. Others =
qualified=20
for a bed at one of Missoula's shelters, and hundreds more would sleep =
on the=20
floors and couches of friends and family.<BR><BR>In all, they talked to =
551=20
homeless people in Missoula, a 65 percent increase over their first=20
point-in-time survey in 2005. More than half - 54 percent - were family =
members=20
with children.</SPAN></P><SPAN class=3Ddetailstory>When most people =
think of a=20
homeless person, they tend to picture a man with a large backpack and a=20
cardboard sign, said Jane Guest, a case manager with the Salvation Army. =
The=20
reality is, Missoula's homeless are men, women and children. Many are =
disabled,=20
or ill. Many have lived and worked in Missoula for years - and, in fact, =
may be=20
working still.<BR><BR>=93We are seeing now probably more of the working =
poor,=94=20
Guest said. =93(They) live on a shoestring, from paycheck to=20
paycheck.=94<BR><BR>Guest was among the volunteers who braved the bad =
weather to=20
visit the places where Missoula's homeless gather. While collecting =
survey=20
information, Guest's group also passed out sack lunches, winter coats, =
gloves,=20
hats and personal hygiene items.<BR><BR>The point-in-time survey was =
spearheaded=20
by the Missoula At-Risk Housing Coalition, or ARHC, a task force of=20
representatives from various human service agencies, and administered by =
these=20
agencies and volunteers at their locations and at known homeless=20
camps.<BR><BR>Given the difficulty of tracking homeless families in =
Missoula,=20
it's hard to know whether the new numbers mark an actual increase in =
Missoula's=20
homeless population or if they're a reflection of some other variable in =
survey=20
methods, cautioned Melissa Wangler Gordon, a grants administrator for =
the=20
Missoula County Office of Planning and Grants.<BR><BR>Still, several =
homeless=20
service providers say the survey's findings echo the growth in demand =
they've=20
seen. Others say the numbers might actually be too low.<BR><BR>Despite=20
record-low unemployment rates and soaring per-capita personal income, =
the survey=20
shows Missoula's proportion of homeless individuals continues to grow. =
In fact,=20
with 26 percent of the state's 2,114 homeless, Missoula may have the =
largest=20
proportion of homeless in Montana, Gordon said.<BR><BR>Some of =
Missoula's=20
homeless are seeking escape from domestic violence, or struggle with =
drug and=20
alcohol abuse, or mental illness. ARHC's report found that nearly half =
the local=20
homeless population had =93serious disabilities.=94<BR><BR>But it also =
found that 33=20
percent were employed, and more than half the current homeless =
population had=20
rented or owned their own home before they became =
unemployed.<BR><BR>Guest=20
believes this points to the number of working poor whose families are =
one=20
paycheck away from homelessness.<BR><BR>=93This is definitely very true =
of single=20
parent families, but it's also hard with the double income families,=94 =
Guest=20
said. =93It's hard to make a living here.=94<BR><BR>The survey found 97 =
homeless=20
families, including 91 homeless children 6 years old or younger, and =
nearly 150=20
homeless children between the ages of 7 and 14.<BR><BR>Kristi Gough of =
WORD's=20
Family BASICS Program added that 300 homeless children in Missoula =
County Public=20
School District No. 1 were identified for services this year through the =

McKinney Homeless Education Assistance Program, which provides bus=20
transportation, school supplies and tutoring services - as well as case=20
management services for their families.<BR><BR>Missoula has a sizable =
number of=20
caring individuals and organizations, Guest pointed out. It has the =
Poverello=20
Center, Missoula 3:16, Missoula Food Bank, the YMCA and a host of other =
groups,=20
she said, and while they're all doing their best, it's still not=20
enough.<BR><BR>For its part, the Salvation Army offers laundry =
facilities,=20
clothing vouchers, showers and a food pantry, and takes part in a =
program that=20
provides temporary lodging for homeless families. The program, Guest =
explained,=20
provides up to 45 days at a local motel, which gives families some time =
to find=20
a job or a rental, or perhaps just wait for their assistance paperwork =
to go=20
through.<BR><BR>While it's a much-needed framework, she said, Missoula =
could=20
really use an emergency shelter dedicated to meeting the needs of =
homeless=20
families.<BR><BR>The Poverello Center is western Montana's largest =
homeless=20
shelter and soup kitchen, said executive director Ellie Boldman Hill. It =

provides beds for 80 people a night and feeds 250 people a day, she =
added - but=20
it is set up for homeless individuals, not for families with=20
children.<BR><BR>=93The Pov literally turns people away every week, =
families with=20
kids,=94 Hill said.<BR><BR>Most people still associate homelessness with =
=93hobos of=20
the days of old,=94 she said, but only about 20 percent of the Pov's =
visitors are=20
transient males facing long-term homelessness. The other 80 percent are =
the=20
working poor, the elderly and the infirm. By and large they are seeking=20
temporary assistance while they get back on their feet.<BR><BR>These are =
the=20
people, she said, you could pass on the street and never realize were=20
homeless.<BR><BR>Reporter Tyler Christensen can be reached at 523-5215 =
or <A=20
href=3D"mailto:tyler.christensen@lee.net">tyler.christensen@lee.net</A></=
SPAN>=20
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