Missoula County Awarded $700,000 Grant to Address Over-Incarceration

The Missoula County Community Justice Department recently received a second two-year $700,000 grant through the MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge to support strategies to safely reduce the county detention facility population and address racial and ethnic disparities in Missoula’s justice system.  

The funds will help expand current initiatives launched in 2018, when Missoula County was first awarded a Safety and Justice Challenge grant. It will help the county work toward its goals of reducing rates of defendants failing to appear at required court procedures, minimizing probation and pretrial violations, shortening pretrial length of stay in jail for defendants who have not been convicted of a crime, and evaluating and reducing racial and ethnic disparities within the legal justice system. 

“This grant allows Missoula County the ability to make headway in many areas including criminal justice reform, equity, public safety and the efficient use of public funds,” Commissioner Josh Slotnick said. “Local governments compete for these McArthur Foundation funds, and our staff’s success with the first award laid the groundwork to receive this second round of funding to help continue the good work they’ve implemented.” 

The Community Justice Department determined six grant-funded employees are needed to meet the intended goals of the program. A Safety and Justice Challenge coordinator will lead the program objectives and facilitate an implementation team with community stakeholders and agencies. Two staff members will provide pretrial defendants with support, information, referrals and resources, and a dually licensed social worker will conduct chemical dependency evaluations for probation and parole and help increase access to needed services for those with a substance use disorder.  

The Missoula County Detention Facility also will gain a re-entry coordinator to provide support to individuals leaving the facility for successful, independent re-entry into the community, and the state Office of Public Defender will welcome a Native American peer support specialist to create meaningful connection and support for Indigenous defendants.  

In addition to hiring staff, the county plans to expand on the current jail population dashboard by gathering additional data to help identify and analyze racial and ethnic disparities in the legal justice system from the initial point of contact to adjudication. This dashboard and the current public safety assessment tool will help measure the success of the program and capture justice system inequalities that need to be addressed. 

Stakeholder and community input gathered through surveys, focus groups and meetings will help align the continued funding with community priorities. The grant runs from April 1, 2021, through June 30, 2023. 

The Safety and Justice Challenge is a national initiative to reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails. The MacArthur Foundation grant funding for the project brings together many of the nation’s leading criminal justice organizations to provide technical assistance and counsel to participating cities and counties. 

Missoula County to Award COVID-19 Job Retention Grants to 27 Local Businesses

Missoula County commissioners on Tuesday approved distribution of $624,738 from the COVID-19 Small Business Job Retention Fund to 27 local businesses impacted by the pandemic to help them retain jobs for low- to moderate-income employees.  

Of the grants awarded, 58% went to businesses in the food and drink industry, for a total distribution of $365,000. Twelve percent went to retail businesses, 10% to professional services, 10% to preschool/childcare, 6% to transportation and the remaining 4% to businesses in the lodging industry.  

The 27 recipients experienced an average 45% decline in revenue since the beginning of the pandemic and had to lay off 158 employees. Without the grant funding, it is projected there would be another 166 layoffs in the first three months of 2021. 

“Demand for the funds was overwhelming,” said Melissa Gordon, program manager for Grants and Community Programs. “While the county isn’t able to provide assistance to every business in need, I am hopeful the program will provide the support necessary for grant recipients to retain employment opportunities and stay afloat until the new federal assistance becomes available.”   

In total, the county received 126 applications requesting $2.875 million in funding. The application portal opened at 9 a.m. Dec. 10, and it only took a few hours for the amount of funding requested to exceed the amount available. Applications were considered on a first-come, first-served basis. 

The grants are supported through the Community Development Block Grant Economic Development Revolving Loan Fund, which are federal Department of Housing and Urban Development funds intended to stimulate economic development by providing loans and/or grants to create or retain jobs for low- and moderate-income people. Low- to moderate-income is defined as individuals or families whose household income is up to 80% of the median income for the area when adjusted for family size.  

With the sunsetting of current state and federal COVID-19 assistance programs and the slow winter season just around the corner, commissioners allocated a portion of the available CDBG funds to provide working capital grants to help retain jobs and reduce the significant fiscal impact COVID-19 has had on small businesses and the Missoula workforce. 

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.  

Missoula County awards $800,000 in grants through Community Assistance Fund

Food truck CAF
The Missoula Food Bank and Community Center provides many services, including the mobile meal bus, beyond the walls of its facility on Wyoming Street.

During the school year and even into the summer, the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center provides more than 40,000 weekend meals to kiddos experiencing chronic hunger throughout Missoula, Lolo, Frenchtown, Bonner and Clinton. On Fridays, a Kids Empower Pack containing two entrees, snacks, fresh fruit and milk is tucked into the backpacks of school children who otherwise may go hungry over the weekend.

The program is made possible, in part, through a grant from the Missoula County Community Assistance Fund. The CAF is an individual county fund that supports people in our communities who face barriers to the basic needs of food, shelter, medical services and emergency transportation. It accounts for around 2 percent of the taxes you pay to the county (or about $14 on a $300,000 house), and it helps provide a continuum of services to some of our most vulnerable populations.

For fiscal year 2020, Missoula County awarded $805,996 in CAF grants, providing critical financial assistance to the following organizations:

CAF list.png

This year, Partnership Health Center received a $100,000 CAF grant, which will assist in opening a satellite clinic at the Missoula Food Bank. PHC currently serves about 16,000 patients annually throughout Missoula and Mineral counties. In some parts of the city and county, PHC serves up to 95% of people living at low income. In the neighborhood around the Missoula Food Bank, PHC’s data show only 32% of eligible patients are being seen. PHC Director Laurie Francis says the clinic should be open in the spring of 2020, which will help them reach many of the food bank’s 26,000 clients who may not have easy access to medical care.

“We are so excited about this project,” Francis says. “It brings together partnerships and support from Missoula County, as well as the city, PHC and the food bank, to better serve that part of the community.  The amount of good we can do together is astronomic!”

The process to secure a CAF grant is rigorous and involved, requiring a thick stack of documents from local organizations that apply.  A review committee comprised of four community members and one county commissioner independently score the applications. The committee then interviews each organization to learn more about its project to determine which requests will be the best use of taxpayer dollars. County grants staff forward the committee’s recommendations to the county commissioners, who vote on whether to approve them.

CAF chart

“Managing the Community Assistance Fund on behalf of Missoula County is one of the highlights of my position,” says Nancy Rittel, a grants administrator for the county. “Seeing how such a broad array of nonprofit organizations are able to provide vital, basic human needs to babies, children, teenage youth, the elderly and disabled because of the county’s assistance is extremely gratifying.”

As Amy Allison Thompson, executive director of the Poverello Center, notes, “Without CAF funds, we would be hard-pressed to offer the level of assistance to people experiencing homelessness, both on-site at our shelter and throughout the Missoula Valley through the efforts of our Homeless Outreach Team.”

Rittel expresses the county’s appreciation for the important role the citizens review committee plays in awarding CAF grants.

“We always owe a big thank you to the members of the citizens review committee for the hours of unpaid service they spend reading hundreds of pages of application materials and taking time from their lives to participate in agency interviews,” Rittel says. “Ultimately, their dedication leads to funding recommendations for the commissioners that are based on vetted, informed decision-making.”

If your organization provides food, shelter, medical services or emergency transportation and is interested in applying for fiscal year 2021 funding, email Nancy Rittel at nrittel@missoulacounty.us. The application deadline is typically the first week of April. More information on county-funded opportunities is online at http://missoula.co/countyfundops.

New leadership on horizon for Community and Planning Services

The new year brings with it new leadership for the Community and Planning Services department, affectionately known as CAPS here at Missoula County.

After a decades-long career with the county, including the last seven as chief planning officer, Pat O’Herren is hanging up his hat at the end of the year. During his tenure, O’Herren built partnerships with other agencies, nonprofits and private property owners, helping Missoula County evolve as a leader in protecting and enhancing our cultural, economic and conservation resources. He’ll leave some pretty big shoes to fill.

Chet Crowser
Chet Crowser

Stepping into those shoes will be Chet Crowser. Crowser comes to Missoula County from Fish, Wildlife and Parks, where he served as the regional parks manager for Montana State Parks in Missoula. He’s well-known for his leadership skills – just ask anyone who’s had him as a boss – and that’s exactly why county commissioners chose him to fill the role.

“As CAPS evolves to focus more on broad community issues and services, we are thrilled to bring on someone with Chet’s relationship-building skills and knowledge of the public engagement process,” Commissioner Nicole “Cola” Rowley says. “We’re confident Chet will provide the leadership necessary to successfully guide the department as it fulfills the many roles it plays in our communities.”

Those roles include land-use planning, zoning, parks and trails management, and grant administration, just to name a few. Engaging a leader who can manage such a diverse array of responsibilities is key.

Having worked in a variety of city, state and federal recreation programs throughout the West, including his experience overseeing 10 state parks while at Montana FWP, Chet has an extensive background in parks management. He’s also participated in many planning, visioning and policy-development efforts while with the agency, and he looks forward to bringing this experience to CAPS.

“I’m excited to join CAPS and take part in the great work that staff do every day to maintain and enhance the quality of life we all value so much in Missoula County,” Crowser says. “I look forward to working with the commissioners, county staff, partners and the public to address the important issues our communities face now and into the future.”

A new boss isn’t the only change in store for CAPS in 2019: The department will soon move from its current building on West Alder Street to a new location at 127 E. Main St., Suite 2. That transition is expected to take place in mid- to late January.