The increases in Montana’s homeless population over the last few years are some of the largest jumps in the nation, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2023 Annual Homelessness Assessment Report.
Between 2007 — when the nationwide annual tracking began — and 2023, the number of people experiencing homelessness increased in 25 states. Montana had the second-largest percentage increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness at 89% and the third-largest percentage increase from 2022 to 2023 at 45%.
“It’s not especially surprising,” said Sam Forstag, a manager with the Montana Coalition to Solve Homelessness. “Right now there’s a nationwide increase, but it sure makes sense that we’re leading the pack in most categories.”
Montana also led the pack in metrics on chronic homelessness, which refers to individuals who have frequent bouts of homelessness or have continuously been experiencing homelessness for over a year.
Between 2007 and 2023, Montana had the highest percentage increase in the number of individuals experiencing chronic patterns of homelessness at 551%. Montana was trailed by Rhode Island (334%), Idaho (275%), Maine (253%) and Washington (195%), according to the data.
Much of this data is based on a point-in-time survey, which is largely believed to be an imperfect tool to measure homelessness as it is prone to undercounting the number of people experiencing homelessness.
Still, those more recent numbers track with what providers are seeing on the ground in Montana.
The number of people experiencing homelessness in Montana’s seven major cities — Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell and Missoula — increased from 2021 to 2022 according to data collected by the service providers in those communities.
Kalispell saw a particularly dramatic increase from 654 individuals in 2021 to 1,049 the following year.
Chris Krager, executive director of Samaritan House, a Kalispell-based service provider that includes a homeless shelter, said that “the trends we are seeing are very similar to what the (federal) data shows.”
Krager has been the director of Samaritan House for 23 years. It was around the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, he explained, that the facility started hitting its capacity on a year-round nightly basis. Depending on how many children are in the families who arrive, the capacity can range from roughly 95 to 105 people.
“It just doesn’t ease up,” Krager said.
Forstag contends that some of the major drivers behind Montana’s imploding homelessness numbers are the dearth of affordable housing and the lack of behavioral health services in the state. Forstag also said that shelter directors from across the state say funding for more case managers is one of their main priorities.
A bill that would have in part helped hire more case managers passed multiple floor votes, but eventually died in committee this past legislative session. That failed legislation would have established $2 million in matching grants for in-house substance use treatment and case management.
That said, advocates fighting homelessness did see some success during the past legislative session: Lawmakers allocated $5 million for emergency shelter facility acquisitions and upgrades as a part of the state’s major infrastructure bill.
“It was a Band-Aid and a Band-Aid we needed,” Forstag said of the one-time funds.
Adequate shelters in Montana are particularly crucial during the winter months, where temperatures can plummet far beyond 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Over the last few years, a number of deaths of homeless people have been linked to the frigid temperatures.
“In Montana’s weather, homelessness can be fatal,” Krager said.
HELENA, Mont. — The Montana Department of Commerce announced it allocated $9.4 million in funding to improve affordable housing in six Montana communities.
The funding will be used to build or rehabilitate 485 affordable homes in Montana.
Projects in Billings, Butte, Hamilton, Helena, Missoula and Kalispell received funds.
The new housing and renovations will benefit Montanans earning less than 80% of the median income.
The Montana Department of Commerce released the following:
The Montana Department of Commerce announced today that more than $9.4 million of funding has been allocated to increase the number of affordable homes in six Montana communities. The funding is through Commerce’s Home Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and Housing Trust Fund (HTF) programs.
“It is critical that all Montanans have a safe and affordable place to call home. That’s why Commerce will continue to support programs that help increase the number of affordable, attainable homes across the state,” said Cheryl Cohen, Montana Housing Division Administrator with the Department of Commerce. “This funding will provide homes for Montanans who are at risk of homelessness, in lower wage-earning jobs and those experiencing special needs.”
Through Commerce’s housing programs, the awarded funds will be used to build new and rehabilitate 485 affordable homes in Montana. The funding has been awarded to the following developments and communities:
Billings – Mitchell Court LLLP will receive $1,650,000 of HOME funding for construction of the Mitchell Court Apartments — 32 affordable homes for families and individuals.
Butte-Silver Bow County will receive $750,000 of CDBG funding for the rehabilitation of the Aspen Place Apartments – 68 affordable homes for families and individuals.
Hamilton – The City of Hamilton, along with Sapphire Lutheran Homes, will receive $750,000 of CDBG funding, along with $1,500,000 of HTF and $1,900,000 of HOME funding for the rehabilitation of The Manor — 60 affordable homes for seniors.
Helena – United Housing Partners LLC will receive an additional $947,232, for a total of $2,526,194 of HTF funding, to support the construction of Twin Creeks Apartments — 62 affordable homes for families and individuals. Additionally, Accessible Space, Inc. will receive $1,200,000 of HOME funding for the rehabilitation of the Queen City Estates — 24 affordable homes for households with individuals with disabilities.
Missoula – Homeword, Inc. will receive $1,500,000 of HOME funding for the rehabilitation of the Creekside Apartments — 161 affordable homes for families and individuals.
Kalispell – Samaritan House, Inc. will receive $750,000 of HTF funding for the development of the Samaritan House Family Living Development — 18 permanent supportive homes for households experiencing homelessness.
“Through these HTF, HOME and CDBG awards, not only will we have preserved 60 units of affordable housing for seniors in Hamilton for many years to come, but the funding will also allow us to provide an updated and energy efficient housing solution for seniors who currently call The Manor home,” said Cole Harden, Regional Senior Officer of Sapphire Lutheran Homes. “We are excited about the upcoming transitions that will take our aging building and transform it into a modernized asset for the community.”
Montana’s CDBG Housing grants help local governments fund new construction or rehabilitation of single-family or multi-family homes that benefit Montanans earning less than 80 percent of the area median income. The HOME Program is designed to create affordable homes for lower earning households. The HTF is an affordable housing production program that complements existing federal, state and local efforts to increase the supply of safe and affordable homes for the most vulnerable households living in Montana. All three programs are financed from federal funds allocated to Commerce from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Clients of Our Place, the Good Samaritan Ministries-run addiction recovery drop-in center, spent much of Tuesday morning cleaning up the block in an effort to change public perception.
He said some of the Our Place clients came up with the idea of cleaning up the block during a group meeting.
“We’re giving them the tools to do what they want to do and that is clean up the neighborhood,” he said.
“We have to show them that we want to be good neighbors, but they have to understand that the status quo isn’t working,” CJ said while sweeping dirt off a Last Chance Gulch sidewalk ramp.
Rachell, another Our Place client, said her participation in the clean up helps her out. Rachell said she has been diagnosed with growing calcifications in her brain. She called them “brain stones” and said they have manifested obsessive compulsive tendencies in her.
“It’s nice to have my feet on the ground,” she said.
She said she has noticed many of the unsheltered in Helena do have mental health problems like her.
“They’re not trying to be disrespectful,” she said. “They are unable to make the right choices.”
Buscher said he hopes the clean-up will become a regular occurrence, but that it will take some encouragement.
Please join us for an Open House and photo exhibit by Ed Field, “Faces of Our Unsheltered Neighbors” in partnership with Town Pump Foundation. Our Place drop-in center is a peer run support program specializing in recovery, resources, education, and referrals in Helena, MT.
Light snack and refreshments will be provided!
631 N Last Chance Gulch
Hope to see you there!!