Rebuilding the ARC 

Missoula’s At Risk Housing Coalition (ARC) hit choppy waters last month when Poverello Center Director Joe Bischof decided to stop attending the monthly meetings. Bischof felt the organization, an umbrella group for non-profits and government agencies concerned with housing homeless and low-income Montanans, lacked focus and purpose.

“One of the things I had stated flat out was that I would not have us continue in the direction that we were going, but that the Poverello actively wanted to be part of developing and reforming the organization,” says Bischof.

The decade-old coalition, which has no staff, board or formal leader, has primarily been a place to share information and brainstorm about housing issues. But Bischof thinks the meetings are too much talk and not enough action. He wants to develop specific strategies and measurable goals so the different coalition members’ efforts can dovetail into a system where no client falls through the cracks.

But Western Montana Mental Health Center’s Patty Kent, an ARC member, thinks that Bischof’s new direction—expanding the role of local and regional service providers—may draw homeless away from the Salvation Army, which Kent says has been Missoula’s “single point of entry” for the homeless for the last 10 years, providing food, shelter, clothing and mental and physical health assessments.

“The idea is that the Salvation Army does all those initial basic needs assessments so that people don’t have to be given a map and sent all over town to get what they need,” Kent says.

ARC’s Dec. 1 meeting will mark the return of Bischof after two meetings on the sidelines, and his first chance to convince Kent’s camp that a change of direction will help the struggling homeless population.

“There seemed to be a lack of game plan,” he says. “But as we get a chance to get back involved in December and beyond, we can make ARC stronger and better.”

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