Reflections: A Year at Gateway

I am a student with the Masters in Social Work program, (MSW), at the University of Montana. My practicum placement this year was with the Ada’s Place Gateway/Emergency Housing program. The program helps homeless families with a stay in a motel and offers case management services to aid in finding housing, employment, and other services as needed. I also advocate for clients in other areas of their lives if they need help. This type of work was all new to me. I am from a small town where everybody knows everybody and if you need a place to stay you can “couch surf” until you find a place of your own. Growing up I did not know what homelessness meant. My family was not well off, but we had food and shelter. I remember my uncle coming to stay with us when he was in town, but he was more of a drifter than actually homeless. My work history involves waitressing/bartending, working with developmentally disabled individuals, and being a Juvenile Correctional Officer. All these jobs and a Bachelors degree in Psychology did not prepare me for what I experienced while working at the YWCA.

Missoula is a beautiful place to be. There are more services for the homeless here than any other city in Montana. I had a hard time finding a place when I moved here, but luckily I found one. There are many here who do not have a place to live. The stereotype of all homeless people being drunk, lazy, or mentally ill is completely not true. My short time at the YWCA taught me that. I see people every week that have jobs, go to school, or are in the process of both that are homeless. The circumstances with each family are different but, they are not the stereotype that people tend to think of when “homeless” enters their mind.

Right now, there are numerous people on the waiting list for Emergency Housing. The big problem seems to be coming up with first and last month’s rent and deposit, all at one time. Many of these homeless families are sleeping in their cars or camping where they can find a place because there are no free places in town to camp or park a car to sleep in. These are just a few of the issues homeless families have to deal with. The YWCA and other service providers in town do what they can, but here is not enough funding to go around but much more is needed to better meet the needs of these families. However, you can help us! Donations of camping gear like: tents, sleeping bags (for adults and children), blankets, or anything else camping-related can help homeless families in a time of great need. The people who use our services are grateful for any help you can give. Thank you all for everything you do.

Posted by Dana Beardslee, Gateway Assessment Center Practicum Student