The Human Resource Development Council, a local nonprofit, is seeking the public’s help understanding what resources southwest Montana residents need and where there are gaps in existing services.

Input will be collected until Aug. 23, via an online survey, which includes questions on how well Gallatin, Park and Meagher counties provide services like childcare and health care. The HRDC also plans to gather feedback this fall through town hall meetings, focus groups and interviews. The online survey and information on other ways to provide feedback can be found on the HRDC’s website.

The survey results and other public comments will be included in a community needs assessment, which the HRDC plans to release in January. The assessment will inform a three-year strategic plan, which will be completed by June.

“The assessment is really what guides our work,” said Heather Grenier, HRDC’s president and CEO. “It’s important for us to hear from as many people as possible, so we can really drill down on what people need and how best to address those needs.”

The HRDC’s last community needs assessment, which was conducted in 2017, showed that affordable housing, public transportation and mental health care were the main needs in southwest Montana. That assessment has led much of the work the HRDC has done in the last couple of years and likely will continue to influence the organization’s work going forward, Grenier said.

“A lot of the time what we think is important isn’t what resonates with a community,” she said. “By talking to the community, we have done work that provides effective and efficient solutions.”

Based on the identified need for affordable housing, the HRDC has been working on several projects over the last few years, including the pilot of an emergency shelter in Livingston this winter, the construction of 52 affordable homes in Big Sky and the purchase of 20 manufactured homes in Belgrade, which are rented at affordable rates.

“In housing, there is a never-ending need,” Grenier said.

To address the region’s transportation needs, the HRDC began offering Sunday service on Streamline and has expanded one of its morning routes. So far, the HRDC has been unable to address residents’ desire for expanded bus service in west Bozeman and Belgrade because it would require the purchase of additional buses and would be expensive to operate, Grenier said.

To improve mental health care, the HRDC has partnered with other local organizations and health care providers. For instance, it joined with Community Health Partners to offer behavioral health care to seniors. The HRDC traditionally hasn’t provided mental health services, and Grenier said the organization hopes to expand in this area by developing more local partnerships.

Through the upcoming community assessment, Grenier anticipates affordable housing, transportation and mental health care will continue to be identified as major issues for local residents. She also foresees affordable, high-quality childcare will emerge as a growing need.

“But we’ll have to see what comes up over the next few months,” she said.

Perrin Stein can be reached at 406-582-2648 or at pstein@dailychronicle.com. Follow her on Twitter @PerrinStein.

Perrin Stein is the county, state and federal government reporter for the Chronicle.

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