Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) With federal funding poised to run out over the coming year, Missoula County may help one local nonprofit prepare to seek external funding to continue operating the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space.

Heidi West, a grants administrator for Missoula County, said the current $321,000 contract with Hope Rescue Mission is set to expire in the coming months. The contract is funded largely by the American Rescue Plan Act and covers the camp’s largest expenses including staffing, contracted security and utilities.

West said Hope Rescue Missoula has already submitted an application for next year and is seeking a 15% increase to cover the full cost of managing the site. But new rules around ARPA will dictate when the last batch of funding needs to contracted and allocated.

“The plan right now is to enter into a two-year contract, because all that funding has to be under contract by December,” said West. “It takes them to December 2025.”

But come spring of 2026, the program may be without funding unless Hope Rescue Missoula can raise the funds through outside sources, such as grants and other supportive programs.

Melissa Gordon, a senior grants administrator with the county, said the county will help the organization identify funding sources and prepare the documentation that it will likely be required to submit when seeking grants and other opportunities.

“One of our goals is to support them so they can get to a place where they can be competitive for external funding,” said Gordon. “We’re working with them to get their reporting dialed in, their tracking, and all the things they’ll need to demonstrate when they’re applying for external funds.”

The Temporary Safe Outdoor Space has undergone several iterations since it was created in the fall of 2020. At the time, the camp was established in an open field and included several tents placed on pallets.

But with pandemic-related funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, the county established the current camp off West Broadway. Residents now stay in hard-sided trailers managed by Hope Rescue Mission, providing shelter and safety as they seek permanent housing.

When the current contract year began, West said 37 residents were on site. Since then, the program has served another 33 new, unduplicated residents. Between the first residents and the newer residents, 33 have found permanent housing and another 13 have left the program without resolving their housing situation, West said.

With the program’s cost estimated at around $370,000 in 2026, and with no ARPA funding available, county officials said Hope Rescue Mission needs to begin seeking funds sooner than later. The county will help where it can.

“They’re really good at what they do, but what they do so far hasn’t been fundraising on this scale,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “This is a big fundraising bill.”

The Temporary Safe Outdoor Space is one of several programs launched by the county and city using ARPA funds. But with ARPA funding nearly gone, some programs could vanish without external funding.

The city’s Johnson Street Shelter is in a similar position and will no longer be funded by ARPA this fall. The city and county allocated $1.7 million to operate the shelter for a full year, but finding that amount in the general fund to continue the shelter’s operation may be a stretch, officials have said.

Like the county, city officials also have said they’ll place greater emphasis on helping nonprofits find and secure external funding, as the general fund budget won’t likely be able to cover the cost.

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