Diggin’ new digs 

The recently quiet street of McIntosh Loop came alive with the din of playful children and eager parents Monday afternoon as the first families arrived at their new, albeit temporary, homes at Maclay Commons. After nearly three years of planning, the Joseph Residence opened the doors to new housing for the homeless, and the excitement of the previously homeless families was palpable.

Sophie and Mark McNeely, and their two children Marky Jr., 7, and Trinity, 6, are one of eight families that moved in Monday, after spending nearly 10 months in the cramped quarters of the former Joseph Residence on Rattlesnake Drive. They hope their new digs are just the first step toward building a new life in Missoula.

“Our plan is to secure a Section 8 housing voucher and find our own place to live,” says Sophie, who is currently training to become a hairstylist at Modern Beauty School.

“I plan on getting some computer training,” says Mark. “We certainly plan on succeeding.”

Marky Jr. and Trinity run barefoot through their new neighborhood with the other Maclay Commons children. They scream and chase each other while the parents look on, smiling and laughing.

The McNeelys have been homeless ever since they arrived in Missoula from the Seattle area last spring. They came to Missoula hoping to find new opportunities after Sophie lost her job and Mark nearly lost his life in a car accident, but high housing costs and limited job opportunities soon led them to the steps of the Salvation Army. They eventually ended up at the “Old Joe,” where they lived dorm-style with other families. Now, for the first time in nearly a year, they have a place to call their own for up to two years. But it doesn’t come without rules:

“They don’t want us getting ghetto fabulous up in here,” jokes Sophie, referring to the “no bare midriff” dress code for common areas of the development. “No pimpin’ your ride. In our case, that’s a skateboard.”

All joking aside, Sophie says her family is lucky.

“It’s very liberating to have some privacy in your own place,” she says. “We’re very blessed.”

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