By Mark Moran - Producer-Editor, Contact News



Big Sky Connection - The number of people who help track people who are homeless in Montana's capital city has nearly doubled since last year. The United Way volunteers have helped more accurately count Helena's unsheltered population. Comments from Jeff Buscher (BUSH-er), community impact coordinator, United Way, Helena.

Click on the image above for the audio.  The Helena point-in-time survey is conducted each year to count people either living in shelters or other temporary housing. (Adobe Stock)

Mark Moran

February 14, 2024 - Helena is stepping up efforts to track its homeless population.

The number of people living without shelter has risen sharply since the city started counting in 2018. When Helena began tracking its homeless population five yeas ago, the point-in-time survey was new.

Jeff Buscher, community impact coordinator for the United Way in Helena, said volunteers are able to more accurately track people who don't have permanent shelter, thanks in large part to more community involvement.

"At least here in Helena, folks' awareness has been raised considerably about our unsheltered population," Buscher observed.

Buscher pointed out that the number of volunteers helping count unsheltered people has nearly doubled. While final numbers for 2024 won't be available until May, volunteers found 44 people living in vehicles in this year's survey, an increase over recent years. The 2023 survey found 164 homeless people living in Helena.

While the weather was slightly warmer this year than in previous surveys, Buscher noted Montana's climate has historically played a critical role in shaping the homeless count.

"Folks are very engaged and concerned about the needs of our unsheltered population," Buscher emphasized. "Because we do live in a sometimes very hostile climate. When it gets deathly cold, there's a lot of folks that get very concerned about whether folks are outside."

The homeless counts help determine how much federal money Helena and other Montana cities will get to address the unsheltered problem.

Best Practices