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Missoula mayor to sign master lease for homeless navigation center

Homeless Winter Missoula
Posted at 12:04 PM, Jun 17, 2021

MISSOULA — With construction underway on a new affordable housing project, members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday turned their attention to a proposed navigation center, which will provide services to the homeless on the site.

As part of the budgeting process last summer, the city allocated $50,000 to begin planning the navigation center as part of the Trinity housing project.

Upon completion in 2023, the project will provide 170 units of affordable housing and 30 units dedicated to those experiencing chronic homelessness. It will also include a “service rich” navigation center, offering everything from basic healthcare services to housing programs for the homeless.

Eran Pehan, the city’s housing director, said the master lease approved Wednesday protects the city’s investment in the navigation center.

“By having the city step in and serve as the master lease holder, we ensure there’s the capacity and ongoing sustainability to have that service in place in our community,” she said. “It allows the city to collaboratively design program services and to set expectations around the provision of those services.”

The services provided from the navigation center are still in design, but having the master lease in place early in the process permits the city to seek out an operational partner.

The city won’t operate the space on its own, Pehan said.

“The master lease does not obligate the city to operate the site. We can contract out with a provider in the community,” she said. “But we do anticipate coming to City Council when Trinity is complete in 2023 to talk about the service package at the navigation center and to talk with the city and county about supporting any gaps in funding we identify.”

Those costs haven’t been identified, though they will likely commit the city and county to fund portions of the operation for years to come. The city plans to contract a provider this December.

Emily Armstrong, the city’s HOME program manager, said the navigation center will likely glean best practices in serving the homeless population from around the county.

Early suggestions include basic healthcare services, housing navigation, showers and computer labs, and overflow needs for emergency winter shelter. The center will not serve as a full shelter, a detox center or a crisis center, Armstrong said.

“There are other projects in play to fill some of the other gaps in our community,” she said. “We want to be specific on how this center will not operate and what the intended purposes will be.”

The overall Trinity project is one of several affordable housing projects under development in Missoula. It’s planned on two sites and will provide 200 units of housing upon completion.

The navigation center will be part of the Trinity project on Mullan Road and West Broadway. The property was donated by Missoula County in 2019.

“This does not mean the city has to run every detail and piece in this big project,” said council member Gwen Jones. “There will be continuity in the master lease and it will create continuity. There is transition in local government and we want that institutional memory. This is a big project that will be here for decades and decades providing really key services.”