About Reaching Home
In 2012, in response to federal level efforts by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to address houselessness more strategically, the City of Missoula and Missoula County adopted Reaching Home: Missoula’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness (Reaching Home). The plan aimed to provide a common vision and ideas to move from “managing homelessness to ending it.” Reaching Home is both a plan and a program focused on strengthening Missoula’s system of services for those experiencing houselessness and at risk of losing housing. At the end of the plan’s ten-year timeframe, the City of Missoula wanted to understand the range of progress, successes, and gaps related to Reaching Home. In the Spring of 2022, JG Research & Evaluation was contracted by the City of Missoula to conduct an evaluation of the last ten years of work related to Reaching Home, and the evaluation and data collection took place June 2022 thru January 2023. The full length and shortened versions of the report are available on the City of Missoula’s website page for Programs for Unhoused Residents.
JG’s Erika Berglund and Suzanna Powell collected and analyzed qualitative and quantitative data and reviewed program documentation. The primary data was sourced from interviews conducted with folks experiencing houselessness, interviews with individuals working to serve those experiencing houselessness, a community-based survey, and two focus groups with community members. Secondary data sets were sourced from the Houseless Management Information System (HMIS) and Missoula Coordinated Entry System (MCES), which provide federal and state data on who is accessing services. The full evaluation provides insights into future strategies for Missoula’s housing programs and efforts to ensure that houselessness is rare, brief, and a one-time only experience for folks.
The report is structured around 4 key buildings blocks outlined in the original plan (implementation of the 10-year plan, service collaboration and coordination, homeless prevention and rapid re-housing, continuum of housing options). Missoula has made considerable progress in terms of service collaboration and coordination, namely the advent of MCES, as well as expanding shelter options for those experiencing houselessness and helping individuals access housing more efficiently. While the establishment of MCES has been a notable achievement over the last year, there are gaps in data completeness and quality, which makes it difficult to understand the outcomes of individuals moving through Missoula’s system of services. The quality of data is improving and trends suggest that individuals are spending less time in MCES.
The most challenging building block to achieve has been the continuum of housing options, as this requires the development and expansion of housing infrastructure which requires money, time, and political and social willpower. While efforts around Reaching Home have supported the development of new affordable and supportive housing options, significant gaps remain in Missoula’s ability to provide a variety of quality housing options to meet the needs of individuals experiencing housing insecurity and houselessness.
Reflecting and moving forward
Upon reflecting on the most surprising and engaging parts of the research process they pointed to the interviews with folks experiencing houselessness and the quality of responses from these participants. Leaning on participant feedback to give recommendations to the City of Missoula became a surprising benefit of the evaluation. JG’s Erika Berglund speaks to the what the past 10 years has set up for key actors coming together to work on the common goal of decreasing the experience of houselessness in Missoula:
“… having a plan and deciding to write a plan and implement a plan at the city level really amounted to the feeling of we [the Missoula community] are in this together, it’s difficult work that requires a lot of hard to access resources… the past 10 years have set up folks to be able to come together and work on common mission and value the effort around it. The past 10 years laid the groundwork and the Missoula community hasn’t really seen the effects yet. The City of Missoula is building upon the foundation, and there is a lot more going on now that there was 10 years ago.” – Erika Berglund, JG Research and Evaluation
The next 10 years will show the exit from the planning phase into a phase of finding more permanent solutions for folks experiencing houselessness. Going forward and into the future of Reaching Home, the full report highlights future considerations such as creating an updated plan, improving messaging and communication, enhancing data collection, increasing affordable housing, and supporting substance use disorder management programming.