The federal government coined the phrase “ending homelessness” in 2009 and inspired several hundred U.S. communities to create plans to create systems that make homelessness rare, brief and one-time-only. People will always lose their homes, but those systems should provide immediate responses for people who fall into homelessness, effectively ending chronic homelessness.
In Missoula, the City-County plan has created the Missoula Coordinated Entry System. It works to prevent people from becoming homeless, divert households that are homeless for the first time, streamline services and prioritize limited housing resources to the most vulnerable people needing housing. Twenty-seven local agencies partner in the system, and 15 agencies have access to Missoula’s Homeless Management Information System, also coordinated under the 10- Year Plan, which provides instant digital access for service providers for quick responses to individual needs.
The solution to homelessness is housing. Missoula’s situation is compounded by rising housing prices and local wages that are not keeping pace to support those costs. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Living Wage Calculator, one adult with no children working in Missoula County in 2018 needed to make a full-time hourly wage of $11.93 to support themselves. Montana’s wage in 2018 was $8.30 an hour, so even someone working a full-time job could struggle to afford stable housing. In fact, 40 percent of people seeking shelter at the Poverello Center homeless shelter are employed. In Missoula, the poverty rate is 19.8 percent, and the rate is 14.3 percent in Missoula County. Both figures are higher than the national averages.