Missoula County Invites Public to Participate in Community Needs Survey, Public Meeting

Missoula County is seeking input to help identify needs and gaps in the community related to public infrastructure and facilities, economic development, housing, human services and COVID-19 response and recovery efforts. 

The Community and Planning Services Grants and Community Programs division conducts an annual community needs assessment to gauge the community’s interests and funding priorities. The needs assessment is the first step in determining how to effectively use potential state and federal funds and to ensure that community development projects reflect community needs. 

The public is invited to fill out a brief and anonymous survey online at missoula.co/cna-survey. The survey will be open Wednesday, May 5, through Wednesday, May 19, and the results will be presented from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 25, during a virtual Microsoft Teams public meeting. Member of the public and news media can join the meeting using the following information: 

Microsoft Teams meeting 

Join on your computer or mobile app 

Click here to join the meeting 

Or call in (audio only)   

+1 406-272-4824  

Phone Conference ID: 621 101 552#   

Comments may be given orally at the public meeting or in writing by Friday, May 28. Written comments must be submitted to caps@missoulacounty.us

“This year’s assessment will focus on housing priorities to assist in developing an affordable housing strategy for Missoula County,” Grants Administrator Kayla Talbert said. “Public participation and feedback is vital to help staff determine the best use of grant funding.” 

Missoula County may apply for funding from the Montana Community Development Block Grant Program or HOME Investment Partnerships Program (federal funding administered by the Montana Department of Commerce) and other state and federal funding sources to support local housing, public facilities/infrastructure or other community needs. 

Previous funding has supported partial construction costs of the Poverello Center and the new YWCA Family Housing Center – The Meadowlark, wastewater system updates in East Missoula and an updated wastewater system for the resident-owned Buena Vista trailer court near the airport.   

Agencies to Host Community Forum on Possible Extension of Temporary Safe Outdoor Space 

The local agencies and organizations that have partnered to stand up Missoula’s Temporary Safe Outdoor Space will hold a community forum to share how the project is going and discuss the possibility of extending it beyond the current public health emergency.   

The virtual forum will take place from 12 to 1 p.m. Tuesday, April 27, via Microsoft Teams. Members of the public and news media can join the session using the following information: 

Microsoft Teams meeting
Join on your computer or mobile app
Click here to join the meeting 
Or call in (audio only)
 +1 406-272-4824 
Phone Conference ID: 900 656 388# 

The TSOS is a safe, healthy, secure area on private land, staffed 24/7, that currently supports around two dozen unsheltered people during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is operated by Hope Rescue Mission with logistical support from United Way of Missoula County and Missoula County government.   

Initially set up in response to the public health emergency, the TSOS has successfully supported 53 total residents, connecting them to regular case management and other critical services. Since the space opened in mid-December, the TSOS has transitioned seven people into housing, and four have received housing approval and are waiting to move or are close to securing emergency housing through the YWCA. Six individuals have obtained or are close to obtaining IDs, which greatly increases the chance of securing permanent housing and employment. In addition, four individuals have become employed since moving to the TSOS, and one has been accepted as a student at the University of Montana. There has been only one law-enforcement call to the site, which was resolved quickly, and only a few medical emergencies requiring first responders.  

Because of this success, organizers are exploring the possibility of continuing the TSOS at its current location as a viable, longer-term transitional housing option for people experiencing homelessness. Organizers have started reaching out to area businesses and homeowners about possibly extending the current site, and they encourage members of the public to attend the community forum to learn more and ask questions. If organizers decide to pursue an extension, it would follow the standard regulatory process required of any other non-emergency project. 

The listening session will feature Susan Hay Patrick, CEO of United Way of Missoula County; Eric Legvold, director of impact at United Way; Jim Hicks, executive director of Hope Rescue Mission; and April Seat, the Mission’s director of outreach. County officials, including the three commissioners, will also attend the forum and answer questions as needed.  

Reimbursement through federal CARES Act funding, emergency support grants from the Human Resource Council and private donations have funded the cost to set up and operate the TSOS so far. Missoula County is currently researching opportunities to fund continued TSOS operations with funding through the American Rescue Plan Act, which has approximately $5 billion designated to address homelessness across the country. Both United Way and Hope Rescue Mission continue to seek and secure private donations to support the site’s operation. 

Public Q & A on Temporary Safe Outdoor Space set for Dec. 16

The Temporary Safe Outdoor Space is located on a parcel of privately owned land north of Highway 93 between Buckhouse Bridge and Blue Mountain Road. The private property is leased to Hope Rescue Mission for $1. 

The Missoula City-County Joint Information Center for COVID-19 will hold a public question-and-answer session on the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space, a project of United Way of Missoula County and Hope Rescue Mission, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, from noon to 1 p.m. via Zoom.

The forum will feature a brief overview of the project and then will be open for the general public and news reporters to ask questions.

Missoula’s Temporary Safe Outdoor Space is a safe, healthy, secure area on private land, staffed 24/7, that will house 40 unsheltered people during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is being offered during our public health emergency because no local providers of food, shelter or services are able to operate at full capacity. A large number of people are living outdoors in unsafe situations without sanitary facilities.

The Q & A will feature Susan Hay Patrick, CEO of United Way of Missoula County; Eric Legvold, director of impact at United Way; Jim Hicks, executive director of Hope Rescue Mission; and April Seat, the Mission’s Director of Outreach. Others on hand to answer questions will be Adriane Beck, director of the Office of Emergency Management; Chet Crowser, Chief Planning Officer for Missoula County; and Anne Hughes, Missoula County Chief Operating Officer.

The costs to set up the temporary space are being reimbursed through federal CARES Act money, so no local taxpayer dollars are involved. United Way and Hope Rescue Mission are seeking additional funding to sustain the site through the winter. United Way and Mission leaders held a press conference about the plans on Nov. 20, but misinformation persists in the community. The Joint Information Center is sponsoring this forum to foster clear public information.

The Missoula City-County Joint Information Center for COVID-19 (JIC) is responsible for COVID-19-related public information that is not specifically illness-related. It is part of the response to the pandemic led by the Office of Emergency Management, which serves all of Missoula County. The communications staff of the City and County, Allison Franz at Missoula County and Ginny Merriam at the City, lead the unit.

For more information about the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space, visit the online FAQ.

Please click the link below to join the Zoom webinar:

https://ci-missoula-mt.zoom.us/j/84045466167?pwd=YWtsRHBoRCsrT1lXQyt0ZTZ3Z1FHQT09
Passcode: 117479

Or iPhone one-tap : US: +12532158782,,84045466167# or +12133388477,,84045466167#

Or Telephone: Dial (for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
US: +1 253 215 8782 or +1 213 338 8477 or +1 267 831 0333

Webinar ID: 840 4546 6167
International numbers available: https://ci-missoula-mt.zoom.us/u/kcTD9olSUz

For more information about the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space, visit this Q & A online: https://www.missoulacounty.us/government/administration/commissioners-office/temporary-safe-outdoor-spaceHere are the Zoom instructions for the meeting:You are invited to a Zoom webinar.When: Dec 16, 2020 12:00 PM Mountain Time (US and Canada)Topic: Public Q & A on Temporary Safe Outdoor SpacePlease click the link below to join the webinar:https://ci-missoula-mt.zoom.us/j/84045466167?pwd=YWtsRHBoRCsrT1lXQyt0ZTZ3Z1FHQT09Passcode: 117479 Or iPhone one-tap : US: +12532158782,,84045466167# or +12133388477,,84045466167# Or Telephone: Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location): US: +1 253 215 8782 or +1 213 338 8477 or +1 267 831 0333 Webinar ID: 840 4546 6167 International numbers available: https://ci-missoula-mt.zoom.us/u/kcTD9olSUz

Affordable housing and nonprofit assistance are top priorities in the Missoula community

Missoula County should prioritize increasing affordable housing for all and assisting nonprofits that provide public services, according to the results of a recent survey on community needs.

The Community and Planning Services Grants and Community Programs Division conducted an annual community needs assessment to gauge the community’s interests and funding priorities. The needs assessment was the first step in determining how to effectively use potential state and federal funds and to ensure that community development projects reflect community needs.

The following priorities were established through an online survey and virtual meeting.

  • The top two actions Missoula County should prioritize overall:
    • Increase housing that is affordable for all
    • Assist nonprofits that provide public services
  • Top two priorities for housing initiatives:
    • Support initiatives to maintain and/or increase affordable housing
    • Down payment assistance for low- and moderate-income homebuyers
  • Top two homelessness priorities:
    • Mental health and substance abuse services
    • Increased supply of permanent supportive housing
  • Top two strategies for increased economic development:
    • Increase the supply of housing that is affordable to the workforce
    • Job training and opportunities for at-risk populations (e.g. prisoner, re-entry, homeless, recovery, etc.)
  • Top two public infrastructure priorities:
    • Broadband internet coverage and access
    • Bike lanes and trails and streets and roads
  • Top two community facility needs:
    • Mental health center
    • Emergency housing facility (youth, domestic violence survivors, homeless individual/families)
  • Top two public services priorities:
    • Mental health services
    • Homelessness services including prevention
  • Top two priorities for COVID-19-related assistance:
    • Emergency rental assistance payment for low-to moderate-income households impacted by COVID-19
    • Financial assistance for small business owners

Every year, Missoula County conducts a community needs assessment to prepare for the release of federal funding opportunities, namely Home Investment Partnerships, Community Development Block Grants and Brownfield Assessment Grants. This assessment addresses the public participation requirement of the federal funding application process and is used to identify funding priorities in the county.

Missoula County competes with other Montana counties and communities for CDBG funding, which is awarded to the State of Montana from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development. Missoula County has secured CDBG funding to partially support the construction costs of the Poverello Center and the new YWCA Family Housing Center on Third Street, soon to be known as the Meadowlark. State CDBG funding also partially funded the updated wastewater system in East Missoula and an updated wastewater system for the resident-owned Buena Vista trailer court near the Missoula International Airport. Furthermore, the county has a CDBG housing repair grant for eligible households to support the costs of repairs needed due to health or safety concerns.

An artist rendering of the new YWCA Family Housing Center on Third Street, soon to be known as the Meadowlark.

The Missoula County Brownfields Assessment Program is just getting off the ground. This grant from the Environmental Protection Agency provides funding for phase I and phase II environmental assessments on properties where its expansion, redevelopment or reuse is complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. The grant also supports cleanup and redevelopment planning. Nearly every community in Montana has brownfield sites. Left untouched, a brownfield can pose insurmountable environmental, legal and public and private investment challenges. The grant is earmarked for properties outside of city limits; however, all potential properties would be considered.

This year’s assessment included an online survey distributed to Missoula County residents from June 3 – 17 through email, social media and ads in the Missoulian and Seeley Swan Pathfinder. The survey included questions about Missoula County’s housing, public services, public infrastructure, economic development and COVID-19 response and recovery. Staff received 207 responses. In addition to the online survey, Grants and Community Program staff conducted a virtual meeting seeking additional community feedback on June 25.  Representatives of Missoula service agencies and 13 community members attended the meeting.

Staff presented information on the assessment to the Missoula County commissioners on July 7, and it will be compiled into a final report that includes the survey results, meeting minutes and public comment. This report is a required component of federal and state grant applications, which are due in September; interested parties can contact the Grants and Community Planning staff to learn more.

To view the presentation, go to www.missoulacounty.us/grants and click on Community Needs Assessment.  

Health officer issues order for more gradual reopening in Missoula County

Health Department

Missoula Health Officer Ellen Leahy issued an order Friday providing additional guidance and restrictions to accompany the statewide Reopening the Big Sky plan Gov. Steve Bullock outlined earlier this week.

The order enhances sections of the governor’s plan and provides for a more gradual reopening process. It intends to protect public health and Missoula’s healthcare hub, our communities, and our essential businesses, services and workers. It will also allow local public health to develop guidance for businesses during this transition.

The key components of the order include:

  • Events are limited to 25 people. During Phase One, which begins Monday, April 27, events and gatherings such as, but not limited to, fairs, festivals, markets (including farmers’ markets), concerts, sporting events, races and private parties outside the home must be limited to 25 people during Phase One. A 6-foot physical distance between participants must be maintained. If this distancing cannot be maintained, then these gathers are limited to 10 people, per the governor’s directive.
  • Salons, spas, body art, grooming and similar services must remain closed. Hair and nail salons, barbershops, spas, tattoo parlors, massage parlors and other businesses and individuals providing grooming, beauty, body art, piercing, massage and similar services will remain closed until Phase Two. Massage therapy affiliated with licensed physical therapy and chiropractor services is exempt from this requirement.
  • Retail businesses must take additional measures to reopen. Retail business, formerly deemed “non-essential” and required to be closed during the stay-at-home directive, may reopen to only curbside pick-up and delivery on Monday, April 27. These businesses may resume in-store services on Friday, May 1, if all the requirements below are met. The following requirements also apply to essential retail businesses that continued operations under the statewide stay-at-home directive:
    • At any given time, the maximum number of customers must be 50% of usual business capacity
    • Measures to protect customers and staff waiting in line at checkout counters, such as visible markers or signs denoting six-foot separation or temporary barriers, are in place
    • Staff have received training on practicing good hygiene, maintaining physical distancing, recognizing symptoms of COVID-19, and not reporting to work or remaining at work if experiencing symptoms;
    • Businesses must develop and implement an individualized plan addressing the requirements in the governor’s re-opening directive and this order. Businesses must keep the completed plan on-site and make it available to the Missoula City-County Health Department upon request.
  • Eating and drinking establishments must adhere to requirements to reopen. Restaurants, bars, breweries, distilleries and casinos may reopen on Monday, May 4, as long as all the guidelines outlined in the governor’s directive can be met. The main difference here between the state plan and the Missoula County approach is that the guidelines outlined in the governor’s plan will be requirements in Missoula County. If establishments cannot meet these requirements, they must remain closed during Phase One. In addition, these establishments also must provide for at least 6 feet of separation between diners and groups of diners, including those sitting in booths.

These measures will remain in effect until the governor moves the state to Phase Two re-opening (the date for which has not been determined) or until this order is revoked or revised based on review of epidemiological data, testing availability and public health and medical capacity to control the spread of the virus and treat COVID-19.

To read the full order and access additional guidance, head to missoula.co/cvirus. If you have questions about how the local orders affect your business or organization, you can call 406-258-4755.

“We know that there are cases in our county that have not been identified and are concerned that we could see a spike in cases if we loosen restrictions too quickly and without a plan,” said Cindy Farr, incident commander with the Missoula City-County Health Department’s COVID-19 response. “We need to take a measured approach to reopening in Missoula for the sake of the public’s health.”

Farr also added that the measures, while delaying some openings, will help minimize the chances of future closures or workforce impacts if cases increase.

“What we don’t want is for businesses to invest in getting back on track, only to be affected again,” Farr said. “Taking the time, providing guidance and moving methodically is important.”

The health department recognizes that loosening any restriction is likely to contribute to case numbers but knows restrictions long-term are not practical. Working with businesses and the community to create a “new normal” in the era of the pandemic is essential.

Since Wednesday, the health department received more than 200 comments from community members, business owners and essential workers. About 90% of the comments asked for additional local measures, particularly to slow the reopening of the businesses that are covered in the order.

Under the governor’s directive, public schools in Montana will have the option to reopen starting Thursday, May 7. The decision to reopen will be up to individual school districts, including Missoula County Public Schools and other districts in the county. The Board of Trustees for MCPS, the largest district in the county, plans to make that decision on Friday, May 1.

Along with these measures, the department encourages community members to practice personal and community protective measures. Monitoring for symptoms, staying home when sick, washing hands, social distancing, and staying home as much as possible are still prevention measures that matter. Additionally, the Health Board’s recommendation for wearing cloth face coverings in public spaces where social distancing is hard may decrease community spread.

“Keeping cases down at this point comes down to behavior and contact tracing,” Farr said. “We can do the contact tracing and provide guidance to our community, but we still need the community’s help. It is going to take all of us supporting each other to keep COVID-19 down. We’ve weathered this storm as well as we have because of community thinking, and that’s what’s going to continue to matter.”