HELENA – Government officials, healthcare workers, tribal representatives and more are in Helena this week for the Montana Homeless Conference.
More than 150 people attended the inaugural statewide conference on homelessness. The hope is to connect different service providers across the state, discuss issues that affect homeless Montanans each day and build a stronger network of providers.
The event was sponsored by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), Montana Continuum of Care Coalition, Montana Healthcare Foundation and the Montana Chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials.
DPHHS Director Sheila Hogan opened the conference with a call to join together and better understand the scope of homelessness in the state.
“We can solve Montana’s problems if we do it together,” said Hogan. “With limited resources, we all have to work together.”
Organizers said this event is a good way to bridge best practices from the attending organizations.
The two-day event features panels addressing numerous topics and issues that agencies face daily such as entry of homeless into housing, community-based planning initiatives and education of homeless youth.
“These conversations are important because we need to move forward in ending homelessness,” said William Snow, Senior Program Specialist at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), “Every part of this country has a homelessness problem. Montana does, Los Angeles does and the way we approach it is unique to each area and we need to spend the time in addressing it.”
Carilla French, executive director of HRDC District 4, said homelessness looks a lot different across the state depending on the community.
“In rural Montana, like Havre where I’m from, homelessness is not visible in the ways that it is in larger cities,” said French. “You don’t see the traditional example of someone sleeping on a sidewalk. They’re living in cars, tents, RVs or simply couch-surfing from house to house.”
French stressed that the individuals in these situations are often not in safe environments, and in rural areas don’t have access to shelters.
“Homelessness can affect anyone. It can be that child that’s in a classroom. It can be your co-worker. It can be a young high school student– especially with youth homelessness it’s a lot of young people that have transitioned out of foster care and they have nowhere to go,” added French.
According to 2018 data from Montana Homeless Survey, 1,052 individuals reported themselves as being homeless in Montana and 353 were said to be accompanying individuals.
That data comes from the annual Point in Time count which is conducted one day each year to help gauge the number of people experiencing homelessness.
Story by John Riley, MTN News