MISSOULA — Experts in Missoula say they're seeing more and more unsheltered homeless people, and part of that is because the shelters are full.
But where do people go then? MTN News found out the options are limited. One woman was kind enough to share her experience.
Jessica Waltz said she wants people to know, "that there's a forgotten sector of the homeless. Those that are responsible adults, and we've just had bad things happen to us."
She's a mother of three and has lived in Missoula for the past three years. Jessica is originally from Anaconda and now lives with her kids at the brand new Meadowlark shelter on Third Street.
"There is no viable options for families with children. There s one place you can go, and even that is, hard to get into, there s a very long waiting list and once you're in there..." she trailed off.
They won't be allowed to stay there for long and you can sense her frustration. "We were promised we would have our safe place to stay and it all got ripped away."
Jessica, and her three kids, have until the end of the month to pack up. "We have to leave there on the 29th of this month — that's only a couple more weeks. And it's right before winter, it's supposed to snow next week, and there's just nowhere to go."
The YWCA operates the shelter and said the Meadowlark is intended to be same-day, emergency housing and for families like Jessica's, escaping an abusive situation, that can be a Godsend.
Former Communications Coordinator Becky Margolis said the goal is to "work with families, provide resources that we can." But she added, "there's so many families needing our services."
Now, too many families need these services. The YWCA is asking all residents who have stayed at the Meadowlark for more than 90 days, to leave.
"People will lose kids, or will have to go back to abusive relationships because there s nowhere else safe to go," Jessica said."
The YWCA says it just can't meet the community's need.
"The need has been greater than we anticipated, families have been needing to stay here longer than we anticipated, and that s why we had to put a limitation on the number of days that people can stay here," said Margolis.
The Meadowlark opened in May of this year. Families were meant to stay up to 45 days, while the YWCA helped them find a more permanent home.
"There really aren't options for longer-term transitional housing in Missoula for families, and very limited affordable permanent housing, the issue is sort of multi-tiered and greater than we are able to provide in this building." - Becky Margolis
The YWCA does offer numerous resources, including rental assistance and a rapid rehousing program, that subsidizes rent up to two years.
But if no units are available, Margolis said that doesn't help much.
"What we really need is landlords and property management companies that are willing to partner with us."
Margolis said as of last week, there were about six families on the waiting list for the meadowlark, and all 25 private family rooms were full. She said they are not "kicking them out or turning families away."
Margolis noted the YWCA is trying hard to meet the needs "that are greater than their capacity."
But for Jessica, if she can't find an apartment, the rapid rehousing program won't help at all. She said she "cried the whole time, knew there were no other options."
Missoula's housing crunch, high rental costs, and low availability have consequences. Jessica says she worries about her kids.
"They've already had enough trauma, this is just something else to add." She continued, "I worry about bullying," saying her kids already get bullied because they live in a shelter. "What's going to happen if we have to live in a car and they cant shower?"
Jessica says, even working full time, she's still not sure she'll be able to find an affordable apartment in time.
"There are places that have waiting lists up to three years," she said.
Jessica shared a 10-page spreadsheet and checklist with MTN News, compiling all the apartments they've applied to, all the resources they've reached out to for help.
Executive director Lori Davidson says the Missoula Housing Authority can offer housing vouchers to those in need, but there's usually 1,400 to 1,900 Missoula area families on the waitlist.
"For the first time in 25 years, people with housing vouchers can't find a place to rent. I wish I had a magic wand and I just could create more units. They just have to keep looking, and pursuing all those avenues." - Missoula Housing Authority Executive director Lori Davidson
Jessica, and her three young children, are now looking into living in a hotel. But those are also expensive, about $2,200 a month according to her. And rental assistance from the YWCA, and MHA, won't cover those costs.
"I really worry about having to live in our car in the winter. I picture the car, I can't keep the car running all the time, what if my car dies, what if my car breaks down, how do i have any heating source for them? I imagine everybody just freezing to death in the middle of the night."
Jessica said she was willing to share her story because she knows its not just her, or her kids going through this
"I hope this will bring awareness to the situation, it's not just me this is happening to, it's quite a few families, and you know maybe their outcomes are more dire than mine. There are people that don't even have vehicles, and what are they supposed to do?" - Jessica Waltz
She said she hopes something will change. "I'm hoping this betters the situation for everybody so something can come of it."