In September, Homeword and partner Missoula Housing Authority (MHA) opened Blue Heron Place to Missoula’s long-term unhoused neighbors. These apartments are Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH), a proven solution for ending chronic homelessness that combines intensive case management and supportive services. The first of its kind in Missoula to offer on-site wrap-around services, Blue Heron Place is making ripples statewide as organizations across Montana take notice.

When Homeword began exploring the possibility of creating PSH with on-site services, their staff toured two different examples of PSH in Colorado. They visited Redtail Ponds in Fort Collins and Arroyo Village in Denver and talked with developers, staff and service providers. Homeword incorporated best practices and lessons learned into its work creating Blue Heron Place.

Now Homeword is paying it forward by sharing best practices and lessons learned from Blue Heron Place. It serves as the model in Homeword’s development of Baatz Block Apartments with NeighborWorks Great Falls and for other organizations in Montana interested in developing PSH.

Recently, Kellie McBride of the Lewis and Clark County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) in Helena reached out to Homeword to learn more about Blue Heron Place and the adjacent Navigation Center.

“We want to see what other communities have done,” said McBride.

McBride served as the executive director of the YWCA in Helena for seven years, overseeing a major renovation to the organization’s building. In 2017, McBride took on a new position as director of the CJCC. This department seeks out and puts in motion innovative programs that reflect citizens’ desires for safety and cost effectiveness.

Guided by a Citizens’ Advisory Committee (CAC), the CJCC has implemented behavioral health services that work collaboratively with the detention center to prepare people for a successful return from incarceration to the community.

“Right now, the CAC is very interested in addressing the unhoused population we have in our community,” she said, “and, really, that intersection between the unhoused and the criminal justice system.”

McBride arranged a tour of Blue Heron Place, bringing with her representatives from the CJCC as well as CAC members from organizations such as the YWCA Helena, Good Samaritan and others. Homeword and MHA staff started by showing the group the Navigation Center, future offices for community-wide services coordinated by All Nations Health Center such as case management, medical care, prison re-entry support, mental health and behavioral health support.

Respectful of the residents’ privacy, they then moved on to the common areas of Blue Heron Place nextdoor and its 30 PSH homes with behavioral health and case management provided by Partnership Health Center and The Poverello Center. They spoke with service providers and one resident who stopped the group, anxious to share about Blue Heron Place’s positive impacton her life.

“We want to go further than just shelter,” said McBride. “Shelter is necessary, but what is that next step? Supportive housing. We recognize that the PSH model makes sense. It saves the community money in the long run and keeps those folks from ending up in the detention center. That’s not where they need to be.”

Eying Helena’s old St. John’s Hospital building as a possible location, McBride, her staff and advisory committee are beginning to piece together what PSH could look like their town. They’re keeping all that they learned about Blue Heron place in mind in the process.

“From what I understand, the [PSH] model could take such a stressor off of our community,” said McBride. “Being able to provide someone with a place to call home with supports there. Not saying ‘you need to go to these places’ and handing them a piece of paper—that would make so much of a difference. I see it as something that really, truly, the Helena community needs.”

To learn more about Blue Heron Place and rest of the Trinity Apartments, visit The Trinity grand opening, which will include Blue Heron Place, will take place in spring 2024. Homeword will provide more information closer to the event.