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Great Falls Rising hosts forum to discuss homelessness

Posted at 8:33 AM, Sep 28, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-28 13:20:27-04

Great Falls Rising hosted a discussion at the Episcopal Church of Incarnation on Wednesday, September 27, 2023, regarding homelessness in the Electric City.

Panelists from MT Housing, Neighborworks, Housed Great Falls, St. Vincent de Paul’s, and the rescue mission were on hand addressing a crowd of roughly 100.

Great Falls Mayor Bob Kelly was also on hand taking questions and commenting on the situation.

The panel met to reassure the public that the city is doing what they can to ensure a long-term plan is fulfilled to address barriers to employment, transportation, acceptance into rehabilitation and more. Many echoed the same sentiment that they are doing what they can with the money given and that much more funding is needed from both the state and federal levels in order to fully enact any promising solutions.

“There are more solutions than just the ones that are being currently provided. It's inadequate. We see homeless people on the streets today. We know there are people with serious mental health issues out there, and we struggle to not only bring the right resources to them, but to have those individuals who respond to treatment,” says Mayor Bob Kelly.

A study conducted in January, 2023, tallied a census of 217 homeless individuals in Great Falls. The numbers didn’t seem convincing for Deb Koetter, a panelist representing St. Vincent de Paul’s.

“The number of 217 is B.S.. It's not accurate. The number of women who are housed that are counted because they have to engage in survival sex in order to stay housed in the winter are not counted,” she proclaimed.

MT Housing representative, Sheila Rice introduced a concept and potential solution to the housing crisis she’s been pushing to state legislators for nearly two decades called land trust homes, which would create permanent affordability in homeownership, which creates greater accessibility for first-time home-buyers. By taking land out of the housing equation and giving the land to a non-profit, the homeowner shares equity with the landowner. Only those that are income-qualified can purchase a land trust home. This would allow individuals to be more secure in the ownership of their home, minimizing situations where they may end up on the street.

These discussions are just the beginning of what advocates hope to be a continued fight against homelessness. Great Falls Rising will host a volunteer fair for the issue at the University of Providence on October 14th from 4-8 pm.