When convicts are released from a Montana prison, one of the first things on their minds is housing. And while it can be difficult even for people with clean records to find shelter in Missoula, that goes double for residents who’ve spent time behind bars. Unsympathetic landlords and difficulty collecting application materials can quickly spell homelessness.

Missoula County and Human Resource Council District XI have teamed up to launch a pilot program designed to assist ex-convicts in just that predicament. The program was awarded a $153,000 grant from the state Board of Crime Control, which will fund two new positions with the HRC and a rental-assistance subsidy.

Kate Ybarra, project coordinator at the HRC, says a significant number of people who seek housing in Missoula, particularly young people, are coming out of homelessness or have some sort of criminal history. Many former inmates are released into homelessness in Missoula County.

These factors create a need not only for housing, but for resources like financial and nutritional assistance.

The Supportive Housing Pilot program was created to take advantage of resources allocated by a bill passed during the 2017 state legislative session. Senate Bill 65 created the grant program that awarded the funds to Missoula County and earmarked $400,000 for projects around the state. Proposals were due in January, and Missoula County secured the grant in March.

The program will be administered by the Human Resource Council, which will hire a re-entry case manager and a housing services coordinator. The case manager will work with probation and parole officers to help connect former offenders with “wraparound services” like job training and behavioral health support, says Missoula County grants administrator Erin Kautz. The latter position will largely work with property managers and landlords to ease their concerns about renting to ex-convicts, as well as create and manage a risk-mitigation fund for property owners concerned about potential damages from prospective tenants.

“The main thing we’re trying to prevent is homelessness,” Kautz says. “Basically, we’re just looking for ways to stabilize people.”

The two new positions will each pay $15 per hour plus benefits, with the grant’s remaining $37,500 going toward rental assistance subsidies for 15 qualifying individuals. All beneficiaries of the program will be referred by parole and probation officers, and walk-in applicants won’t be accepted. It’s not yet clear if the funding is renewable beyond the program’s first year.

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