MISSOULA – Missoula YWCA leaders say it could take a couple of years to open a new shelter for homeless families and victims of domestic violence. But they’re calling approval of the project this week a major step forward in addressing the issue in the Garden City.
“Family homelessness is a problem that has been largely unseen because homeless parents usually try hard not to be noticed,” said Missoula YWCA Executive Director Cindy Weese. “But our community has an urgent need for a safe place where all homeless families can find same day access to shelter, and the support they need to get back on their feet.”
In fact, YWCA leaders tell the Missoula City Council there are as many as 50 homeless families on any given night in the city, and yet only facilities enough to help about 16 of them. In fact, they say Missoula has the dubious distinction of having the largest population of homeless families in Montana, and yet is the only urban city without a place for them to go, forcing them to live out of their cars or other vehicles.
“Homeless families must try to raise family and rebuild their lives while living in their vehicles,” said YWCA Board President Cindy Nesselroad. “By providing housing families will have beds to sleep in, a kitchen to cook in, quiet space for their children to do homework and a warm shower to fortify their belief in a brighter future.”
And that’s the dream of the new Y shelter which council members approved Monday night. The shelter will combine a domestic violence shelter with 13 rooms, and another 25 rooms for the family housing shelter. That will provide a more secure location for domestic violence victims than the old 22-year-old shelter. But it also teams with Family Promise, which has been providing shelter at local churches.
“We can create a reality in Missoula where, if a family loses their housing, or a person is experiencing domestic violence that they will have a safe place to go right away,” said Missoula Interfaith Collaborative Executive Director Casey Dunning.
Council members were all on board, with Heidi West even sharing tears of relief.
“And the only thing we have to do here is kind of get out of your way,” said Missoula City Councilman Jesse Ramos. “So I’m very happy with that and thank you for all you do. And I look forward to helping you in the future.”
“It would be so nice to have somewhere to direct people to go that’s a little bit more long term and solid, and also moves folks into housing quicker,” said Missoula City Councilwoman Heidi West. “And I support this wholeheartedly and I really look forward to being able to direct people to this resource in the future.”
Now, the YWCA and its partners can move into final design and planning for the project, which they hope to have open by the end of 2020.
Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News