The number is fluid, but on any given day, at least 200 people are homeless in Missoula. Some are vexingly visible, asleep on the sidewalk or the courthouse lawn. But that group, the chronically homeless, is less than 25 percent of the total. Unfortunately, they use about 50 percent of the resources devoted to homelessness.
Nationwide, nearly 40 percent of the homeless are families. In Missoula, that translates to dozens of children attending public schools in Missoula County. Sometimes those kids couch-surf with family friends, but oftentimes they sleep in cars or short-term motels. Either way, they’re never quite sure where the next night will be spent or where their next meal will come from.
In most cases, the kids and their parents didn’t move to Missoula because they were homeless; they are, quite literally, homeless Missoulians. Some believe Missoula draws the homeless because the city provides exceptional service, but the numbers tell a different story. Most homeless people became so while living here. They’re not someone else’s problem. They’re us.