Last April, the Aid Montana Initiative was launched by the attorney general’s office to combat Montana’s substance abuse epidemic that has created an alarming increase in the number of drug offenses in the justice system, overcrowding in our jails, courts and prisons.

Aid Montana’s goal is to have a blueprint for a strategic plan completed before the 2019 legislative session so that a roadmap can be presented to lawmakers to efficiently combat this epidemic.

A strategy that should be included in this blueprint is to provide housing to people who are homeless as a way to help prevent the exacerbation of substance use and mental disorders.

In a recent U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Report, 987 individuals and 542 people in families were counted among the homeless in Montana. Of the total 1,529, 64.4 percent live in shelters and the other 35.6 percent live on the streets.

Homelessness itself is a risk factor for mental and substance use disorders, given the many life challenges and disruptions that people who are homeless face: for example, stress, loss of social connectivity, increased threats, harm through victimization and exposure, and deterioration of health status.

Homelessness effects are especially acute in children, for whom homelessness may mean a loss of family stability, disruptions in school attendance or performance, and being ostracized by peers.

In Southwest Montana, the Human Resource Development Council’s Housing First Initiatives are providing strategic housing services that include temporary shelter, transitional housing, homelessness prevention and placement and extensive case management.

A “housing first” strategy that prioritizes providing permanent housing to people experiencing homelessness can serve as a platform from which they can pursue personal goals and improve their quality of life.

Rick Gale