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The original item was published from 9/11/2014 11:04:02 AM to 9/26/2014 12:05:00 AM.

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Butte-Silver Bow

Posted on: September 11, 2014

[ARCHIVED] Homeless coalition develops plan in wake of federal funding changes, other local issues

Human Resource Council District XII (HRC) and the City and County of Butte-Silver Bow recently formed a partnership to develop a strategy reacting to changes in how transitional housing is funded.

“Several triggering events recently stimulated the need for a broader community discussion regarding how people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in Butte-Silver Bow are effectively served,” said Margie Seccomb, the incoming chief executive officer of HRC, which oversees operations at Homeward Bound, Butte’s transitional housing unit located at 304 N. Main.

The three morning-long “Caring for Our Homeless Community” discussions held in June and early July also prompted projects to gather best-practice information from other Montana cities, implement strategies aimed at preventing at-risk individuals and families from becoming homeless, and develop a plan that would update housing inventory, build resources, better coordinate services for the homeless, and elevate roles of those who advocate for the homeless.

Nationally, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is reprioritizing funding for homeless services, giving higher priority to permanent housing rather than transitional housing. This has prompted agencies such as HRC to select other models, primarily a program called Housing First, which quickly rehouses homeless families while providing support services. As a result, the HRC Board of Directors recently voted to close the Homeward Bound transitional housing unit, effective February 28, 2015.

“National data show that homeless individuals and families have better outcomes when placed directly into permanent housing,” Seccomb said. “HUD has come to believe the transitional housing model actually adds to the length and public cost of homelessness. We as providers are now being asked to shift our philosophy from managing homelessness to ending homelessness.”

Last year, Homeward Bound served 73 people – 63 adults and 10 children. Seccomb said the recent community discussions, attended by representatives from several agencies, resulted in strategies that HRC can implement in the wake of the HUD funding changes. The meetings also presented current local homeless data.

For example, the overall poverty rate in Butte-Silver Bow stands at 18.7 percent, compared to the national rate of 15.9 percent. The county’s child poverty rate of 22.6 percent is comparable to the national rate for child poverty, but more than two points higher than the Montana rate.

42 percent of the county’s population is at 200 percent or below the federal poverty line. This means an estimated 14,000 people in Butte-Silver Bow are eligible for some federal low-income services. 43 percent of renters and 23 percent of homeowners in Butte-Silver Bow report experiencing burden due to housing costs exceeding 30 percent of their total income.

At the sessions, HRC relayed that the number of reported homeless families more than doubled in Butte-Silver Bow from 2011 through 2013, and children consistently accounted for more than half of total homeless family members. The number of reported homeless individuals increased about 42 percent from 2011 through 2013. HRC said that more than half of homeless individuals and families reported having at least one disability. The agency also reported that the numbers of chronic homeless are increasing, with Butte-Silver Bow ranking fourth in the state for chronic homeless populations.

A majority of the June/July meeting participants, via a survey administered after the first session, said they do not believe the community has a unified vision or plan to address homelessness, nor do they believe that agencies are currently working together effectively to coordinate services.

The same survey said that the reinvigorated homeless coalition, which will be comprised of many of the meeting participants, needs to quickly focus on the availability of affordable housing, as well as improved communication between agencies and reacting to the change in HUD funding for Homeward Bound.

When asked in the survey to prioritize gaps in services for the homeless, participants listed transitional housing, provision of short-term living expenses such as rent and utilities, daycare services for the working homeless, and temporary shelter, including for homeless individuals under the influence.

The recent meetings addressing homelessness in Butte were sponsored by HRC and Butte-Silver Bow. Those attending represented HRC and its board of directors, the Montana Independent Living Project, the Butte-Silver Bow County Commission, the Montana Chemical Dependency Center, the Butte Public Housing Authority, the Butte Rescue Mission and surrounding neighbors, Butte-Silver Bow Community Development, the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department, the Southwestern Montana Community Health Center, Butte-Silver Bow Law Enforcement, Western Montana Mental Health Center, the Butte Emergency Food Bank, the Montana Veterans Homeless Program, the Butte Community Council, St. James Healthcare and the Butte Ministerial Association.

Comprising the core planning group for the sessions were Seccomb, Butte-Silver Bow Community Development Director Karen Byrnes, Butte-Silver Bow Health Officer Karen Sullivan, and Jamie Paul, the Health Department’s Family and Health Services manager and an HRC board member.

The final planning document, Community Stakeholder Discussion: Caring for Our Homeless Community, is available using the link below.

Community Stakeholder Discussion Document
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