Halfway home

Year six of Missoula’s 10-year plan to house its homeless.

On a brisk November morning in 2017, the Missoula Fire Department, paramedics and law enforcement responded to an unresponsive male near the 600 block of Owen Street. Responders began CPR on Timothy Lloyd, a homeless 61-year-old, then transported him to Providence St. Patrick Hospital. After failed rescue efforts, he died from hypothermia.

In 2018, the Montana Point in Time Survey, conducted by local homeless service providers and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, reported that Missoula has 293 homeless people, 23 percent of the statewide homeless population, and the highest percentage of any place in Montana. Missoula began working toward ending homelessness in 2012, when Mayor John Engen and Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss signed into effect Reaching Home, a 10-year plan to house Missoula’s homeless.

A 2018 Missoula housing report states the homeless population in January of 2017 was 344. The report blamed Missoula’s housing boom and a limited rental market. It called 2017 the third consecutive year of high lot sales, citing an 8.1 percent increase in the average price per lot.

In June 2017, Reaching Home introduced its Coordinated Entry System (CES). Its mission is “to rapidly respond to people experiencing literal homelessness” through collaborative efforts to ensure the experience is brief and nonrecurring.

The Poverello Center is one of four entry points for Reaching Home’s CES. Elise Watts, the Poverello’s shelter manager, said the biggest hurdle for Missoula’s homeless is still affordable housing.

“Some of our temporary tenants have multiple jobs,” Watts said.

Median gross rent for Missoula in 2016 was $818 per month, a 3 percent increase from 2010.  Watts said she believes a lot of the shelter’s patrons experience homelessness as the result of “one missed incident that leads to them being displaced.” Missing one month’s rent or losing a job can lead people to the shelter.

Some patrons faced additional obstacles. According to Watts, mental health and substance abuse can hinder attempts toward housing. The Poverello Center has a zero-tolerance policy for alcohol. The shelter has a Homeless Outreach Team that assists those who do not go to their facility, sometimes due to alcohol consumption.

Dean Littlelight, 40, is one of Missoula’s displaced.  “I’ve been homeless on and off for years,” he said.

Littlelight and his friend “Griz” hang out on the Missoula County Courthouse lawn. It’s neutral ground for the city’s homeless. Both men said they appreciate the Poverello Center’s efforts, especially its outreach team. Littlelight said the team helped him find Section 8 housing. However, he’s still waiting for that to be processed.

The Union Gospel Mission (UGM) of Missoula offers a day center on the city’s north side, seven miles from the site of Timothy Lloyd’s death. UGM of Missoula helped eight people find permanent housing as of September 2017. Since Lloyd’s death, UGM of Missoula opens its doors overnight whenever the temperature drops below 11 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We’re trying to fill in the gaps,” April Seat, 39, said. Seat, UGM of Missoula’s director of outreach and volunteers, said the day center created new hours to offer services when the Poverello Center locks its doors.

Reaching Home is in its sixth year. Despite Missoula’s recent growth spurt and the increased cost of housing — the median sale price of homes has been on the rise since 2010 — Reaching Home’s collaborative effort continues to roll on. Other CES entry points for the program’s latest phase include the YWCA, Montana 2-1-1 and the Salvation Army. There are also grassroots efforts to help homeless in Missoula.

Terri “Tuner” Wood, 58, founded Set Free Street Ministry after UGM of Missoula stopped serving full meals in April 2018.  “At first, I thought that I would just visit downtown, then decided to serve what food I could,” Wood said. “Everything that is served has been bought with donations.”

The Missoula County Health Department recently shut her down for lack of licensure. Wood is working on building a food truck that meets standards.

Wood sets up a small table of clothes three days a week in the spring to help those in need. When she comes across food that would otherwise be wasted, Wood said she prepares and hands it out despite the Missoula County Health Department’s order.

On a weekday in September 2018, Wood left her table in front of the courthouse to bring sandwiches in bread bags to Littlelight and Griz.

“Providing love and acceptance to faceless people is the most gratifying aspect of my work,” Wood said. “Feeding them is not the only way to help them.”