Missoula’s YWCA’s proposal to construct a new building to provide housing for about 31 homeless families, a domestic violence shelter with 13 sleeping rooms and offices for staff members sailed through a public hearing Monday night, receiving unanimous approval from the city council.
"I'm really glad to live in a community where we have these types of nonprofits that can take these kinds of leadership roles and have communities that help the YWCA embark on this project," Councilor Gwen Jones said. "I'm sorry we have a need for it, but glad we can do this. Go get 'em."
The three-story facility will be located between Second and Third streets just west of the Good Food Store, according to a brief presentation given to the City Council. The Family Housing Center also includes overflow space for up to eight additional families, bringing a total of 44 sleeping rooms plus 8,500 square feet of office space at 1800 S. Third St. W.
Cindy Weese, the YWCA's executive director, said this will allow them to expand their current domestic violence center, which at this point is in a seven-bedroom, three-bath house in a residential neighborhood, with little privacy.
In addition, it replaces a current program in which the YWCA provides seven to 12 vouchers every night for homeless families to stay in motel rooms while they seek more permanent living quarters.
It’s anticipated that the families would stay at the facility for anywhere from 30 to 90 days while they work with the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative to find permanent affordable housing, deposits and rental assistance.
Altogether, the center would have 31 sleeping rooms. Of those, 25 will be private, fully furnished rooms, and the other six are in a shared overflow room. The 25 rooms will have full private bathrooms, and with bunk beds can sleep a maximum of five people. Larger families will be put in two rooms. Each sleeping room would accommodate one family.
These rooms are only for families with dependent children; no individuals would be housed, and the building would not be a transient drop-in facility. Meals will be served, but only to residents staying at the facility.
The 36,790-square-foot facility would replace an existing commercial building, but a Quonset hut will remain on site for storage.
Casey Dunning, executive director of the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative, said they've worked with a wide range of partners in order to move this project forward.
"We have been a lead partner in the family housing aspect of this; this surfaced as the number one concern people are feeling," Dunning said. "This is a critical need, which is access to emergency housing for families.
"It is the vision for this partnership that we can create a reality in Missoula that if people lose their housing or experience domestic violence, they have a safe place to go right away."
Cindy Nesselroad, the YWCA’s board president, noted that Missoula is the only major Montana city that has no stable and safe housing for families who are homeless.
The new YWCA facility will be across the street from Sussex School, and Robin Checota, the school board president, said they're eagerly anticipating working with their new neighbors.
"We look forward to partnering with them in the future and participating in their neighborhood advisory council," Checota said.
The school has asked the YWCA to screen homeless families for drugs and criminal background before they’re admitted to the shelter, noting that anyone convicted of a sex act against a minor is prohibited from staying in the facility. The school board also wants the facility not to automatically admit anyone with a violent criminal conviction, but instead go through an admittance process with steps verifying the person isn’t a danger to other facility residents.
The board also wants adult applicants to be screened for drugs upon entry to the family homeless shelter, and that those who test positive for methamphetamine not be allowed to stay there.
In addition, the board wants the YWCA to move two separate smoking sections, located near the back of the facility, away from the property line where Sussex has a play area for the kindergarten through eighth-grade students.
No one spoke in opposition to the project, which was passed 10-0 by the council. Michelle Cares, a YWCA board member, abstained from voting and Stacie Anderson was absent.
"This will be a great asset to the community," said Councilor John DiBari. "I'm incredibly supportive of the mission and wish you the best of luck."