By MICHELLE MCCONNAHA of the Ravalli Republic | Feb 10, 2017
There were 41 participants in the 2017 Point in Time Count conducted by The Bitterroot Taskforce on Homelessness and Housing. The survey asked homeless people, sheltered and unsheltered, where they slept on the night of January 26 and some specifics about their situation.
Tim Peterson, president of Bitter Root Resource Conservation and Development Area, Inc. and chair of the taskforce, said the number of homeless increased from last year’s count of 25 and the taskforce will move forward.
“I had hoped to get 50 we had 125 surveys and we got 41 responses,” Peterson said. “This is just the beginning, just the first step in figuring out the current situation.”
The survey was done for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and to provide a look at the homeless situation in Ravalli County.
This week the Bitterroot Taskforce on Homelessness and Housing will meet to discuss focus groups and needs assessment questions. Several different focus groups will talk with the people affected by housing insecurities and homelessness to discuss their needs and gaps in meeting those needs.
“This will build off the data we’ve collected,” Peterson said. “We’ve taken the surveys to the Human Resource Council and they are entering the data and look to see what it means. They will look at the demographic, services they are using and not using, what their life situation is.”
Then the taskforce can decide where to focus effort.
Peterson said he had a few surprises and the biggest was the low numbers of families at Ravalli Head Start participating in the survey.
“They took 30 surveys and only had 10 people participate,” Peterson said. “They have identified as many as 50 kids that are homeless. We know, through the Office of Public Assistance, there are 41 homeless families in the school system in Ravalli County. We think our numbers are low.”
Peterson said the homeless count yielded benefits.
“We’ve created a network and we have an understanding of what worked and what didn’t work,” he said. “Next year we think we’ll contact more people by phone, have more incentives, more convenient locations and we’ll start spreading the word sooner.”
Peterson said other surprises were the number of single homeless men, the number of people that moved to the area to be near family but are unable to find employment and that there is nowhere in the valley to place service dogs while the family looks for dog-friendly housing.
The Bitterroot Taskforce on Homelessness and Housing has an impressive list of members:
Stacey Umhey (SAFE), Jim Morton (Human Resource Council), Chris Hoffman (Ravalli County Commissioner), Patti West (Office of Public Assistance), A. J. Cranston (Ravalli Services), Rachel Nelson (West House Crisis Center), Becky Boykin (Summit Independent Living), Kate Duggan (Sapphire Community Health), Stevensville United Methodist Church, Blaise Favara (St. Francis), Dan Griffin (Valley Veterans Service Center), Pam Gouse from (Bitter Root RC&D), Dixie Stark (Literacy Bitterroot), Vickie Steele (Hamilton Job Service) and more.
Peterson said the taskforce is using the survey information, will keep digging for more answers to the problem and is hoping to find the cause.
“Is it jobs, is it affordable housing, is it child care, is it public transportation?” Peterson asked.
Jaime Ogden, Becky Brandborg, Chris Bayer and Peterson are meeting this week to develop the questions for the focus groups.
“Then we are going to start talking to people,” Peterson said. “The other big thing we are working on is a systems map. It shows how people enter into the system and what services are available. It will help us understand where people are coming from, where they can go and the flow. It will help us get at the gaps of services.”
Peterson said there are informal groups of support in the valley.
“Sheriff Office Chaplin Mark Hawes told me how law enforcement and the faith community are working together to help meet people’s needs,” Peterson said. “If they go to a situation and people need firewood or someplace to stay for the night, the deputy and chaplain decide. There’s a whole network that helps keep families together and keep them housed – neighbors helping neighbors, the Bitterroot Valley Network, Salvation Army and Human Resource Council, chaplains and all of the different players.”
Peterson said it is important to have a coordinated effort and a conversation to make others aware of who is providing services. The goal is to figure out what needs to be done for people who are homeless or have housing insecurity in Ravalli County.