MISSOULA - This year is the fifth annual Jeff Bezos Day One Fund, which is when grants are given to organizations around the country that aim to help families experiencing homelessness.
One of the grants was awarded right here in Missoula, at the YWCA.
The Amazon owner has committed $2 billion to combat homelessness and provide preschools in low-income communities with the Day One Families Fund and Academies Fund. This year the Families Fund handed out $123 million in awards for homeless prevention and support.
The YWCA was encouraged to apply for the grant in August by representatives of the Bezos Day One Fund and was recently informed that they were awarded $2.5 million and the staff is excited to implement the funds towards helping the community.
“I’m just really excited, and I’m looking forward to seeing what we’re going to be able to do and you know, be able to help our community," said YWCA Missoula Housing Program director Mellissa Richards.
The YWCA opened the Meadowlark 18 months ago as emergency housing for families experiencing homelessness and safety for families of domestic abuse. Executive Director Cindy Weese says the Meadowlark has been full since day one, so the money received is much needed.
“We are thrilled to kind of have a sigh of relief and know that we will be able to serve all who need us in the near future and over the next five years," she said. "And that we have the ability and the resources to really look at creative solutions to not only shelter families, but also look upstream and do things that might prevent families from becoming homeless in the first place."
Over the next few months, the YWCA will work with community officials and local organizations to determine which areas are most in need of funds. Weese says they will focus on emergency housing and expanding youth support. Rather than look to build more facilities, YWCA will aim to provide rent assistance and other financial support that families may need.
"At this point we don't have any plans to invest the money in bricks and motor, so to say, but in support that the families need," she says. "What we do know is that we will be using some of it to provide intensive case management, support to families who have high barriers to finding their own home and housing, and that we’re going to do work specifically with the children."
The YWCA provides youth counseling and advising in an effort to prevent children from repeating the cycle and growing up to experience homelessness themselves, according to Weese. They hope to use the money to expand these programs and increase the number of staff.
Overall, Weese and the staff at YWCA are glad to have been given extra resources to continue their work.
“I just want to say that we are extremely proud to have our work validated in such a big way," Weese says.
More information about the YWCA and the resources they offer can be found here.