Bitterroot Community Symposium
Collective Impact in the Bitterroot Valley was kicked into action by the "Bitterroot Community Symposium: Discussing Collaborative Solutions to Local Challenges." The Bitterroot College hosted the event on October 20, 2016.
Read about the event HERE as covered by the Michelle McConnaha of the Ravalli Republic
see what Kevin Maki of KECI had to say HERE
In Ravalli County, homelessness isn't a transient panhandler. It's a wage-earner with no stable place to sleep.
Before this year, Tim Peterson never really had a clear picture of the face of homelessness in the Bitterroot Valley. For him, the issue tended to conjure images of panhandlers—a fairly rare sight in towns like Hamilton. But as he participated in public meetings and spoke with leaders of other area nonprofits, Peterson quickly realized that homelessness encompassed a far broader spectrum than he knew.
"You say homeless, you see the person on the streets," says Peterson, president of the nonprofit Bitterroot Resource Conservation and Development. "And in Ravalli County there might be one or two of those people. The real problem is invisible."
Over the past few months, a number of local organizations, including Ravalli Head Start and Supporters of Abuse Free Environments (SAFE), have banded together to work toward a collaborative solution for the valley's homelessness problem. Their efforts are being bolstered by a two-year, $27,500 grant Peterson received from the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation this summer. The grant is specifically designed to support a "backbone organization" for the coalition's work, Peterson says. That organization has been dubbed Bitterroot Collective Impact.
"There's not a simple solution," Peterson adds, "so you need a complex group of people working on a complex issue if you're going to see a solution for it."
According to Peterson, Bitterroot Collective Impact intends to develop five to seven goals for the next two years at its Dec. 20 meeting. The group is also funding scholarships for staff at area nonprofits to attend four spring workshops with the Montana Nonprofit Association, and it's ramping up for a "robust" homeless count in January.
For Stacey Umhey, executive director of SAFE, the issue Bitterroot Collective Impact is now tackling first became evident about three years ago. SAFE, which offers emergency housing for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, had a long-standing practice of opening its shelter doors to others in need. But the nonprofit began to notice its facility filling up more regularly, and often with people who simply had no other bed to turn to. In 2015, Umhey recalls, SAFE turned people away 68 times.
"We also started noticing ... the length of time people needed to stay in our shelter was going up and up," Umhey says. "That's a direct correlation to there not being any affordable housing in the community."
Umhey and Peterson agree that recent discussions about homelessness, including a public symposium held in Hamilton late last month, seem to indicate that homelessness in the Bitterroot is due largely to widespread housing insecurity. In other words, Peterson says, the area's homeless population is sleeping in cars, crashing on couches or living in campgrounds.
"There are people that are working good-paying jobs that don't know how long they're going to be able to stay in the place that they're living."