Missoula City Council OKs winter homeless shelter at Salvation Army, but $25K needed before doors open

Missoula’s Salvation Army can house 30 homeless people overnight this winter, but needs another $25,000 in donations before the doors can open.

Missoula’s Salvation Army will provide warm, overnight shelter for homeless people this winter, but it still needs to find $25,000 in funding before the doors can open.

Until then, some of the city’s homeless residents will find themselves on the streets once the Poverello Center reaches its nightly cap, a plight that clearly concerned all who gathered Friday afternoon for a special session of the Missoula City Council.

The emergency meeting was needed so the council could approve an emergency zoning ordinance authorizing the Salvation Army to temporarily operate its facility at 355 S. Russell Ave. as a homeless shelter, beginning immediately and running through April 1.

But Capt. Josh Boyd, who with his wife Capt. Ryan Boyd manages the Missoula Salvation Army, said the shelter cannot open until he has 100 percent of the funding needed to operate.

That’s $50,000, nearly all of which will be used to hire the staff needed to run the shelter. Of that, the Salvation Army has raised $25,000, Boyd said.

“We have to have 100 percent,” he said, “so we don’t start and then end up not having the money to remain open all winter and people again end up with no place to go.”

Full, upfront funding gives the Salvation Army the “fidelity and integrity” needed to hire a staff and open the shelter.

Ward 5 Councilwoman Julie Armstrong asked the mayor if the city could provide any of the $25,000. The answer, via Development Services was no – primarily because all suitable grant funding already has been allocated by the granting agencies.

If the Salvation Army were to again provide shelter next winter, and the city knew that likelihood well in advance, the request could be included in the next round of grant applications.

Armstrong said her preference would be for the city to build its own homeless shelter, and to manage and finance the facility. The next best option, she said, would be for the city to help get this winter’s second shelter fully financed so it can open. Winter is already here.

So the mayor and City Council members turned to the public and asked for help.

Said Ward 3 Councilwomen Heather Harp, “We all came here today with a great deal of empathy for those who are homeless on our streets in the cold.”

“Please contribute what you can,” she said, appealing to the audience who would hear her message over Missoula Community Access Television’s live broadcast or who would read it in a media report.

“This is a time of crisis when we need to all step up,” Harp said.

At the mayor’s urging, Boyd said gifts should be made directly to the Missoula Salvation Army and be specifically designated for this winter’s overnight homeless shelter.

Boyd can be reached by email at josh.boyd@usw.salvationarmy.org. The Missoula Salvation Army is located at 355 S. Russell St.; telephone, 549-0710.

The Salvation Army was not originally tapped to provide this winter’s overflow shelter, a task that last winter fell to the Union Gospel Mission.

But the mission can no longer provide the additional beds because it cannot meet new requirements. (Its director endorsed the Salvation Army shelter as the best possible alternative at Friday afternoon’s meeting.)

And the Poverello Center recently enacted a nightly cap, realizing that it can safely host only 175 people overnight. (One Poverello Board member came to Friday’s meeting to assure the council that the decision was heartbreaking, but that the center had no alternative.)

Also at the meeting was a Poverello Center staff member who said he is the person telling homeless people that there is a cap on the number who can stay the night indoors.

“They ask me where they can go, and I have to say I don’t know,” said the man.

Some nights so far this winter, 20 to 30 people have been out in the cold with no shelter. The Salvation Army can house 30 people once its funding is in place.

Boyd said he and his wife have a combined 33 years of experience in Salvation Army leadership and have managed facilities before that had overnight shelters.

In addition, he said all of Missoula’s social service agencies have pledged their help and support “to make this endeavor a success.”

“We are not going into this alone,” Boyd said.

In fact, Poverello Center executive director Amy Thompson came Friday to publicly voice her support for the Salvation Army, promising to “lend a hand in any way possible.”

So, too, did representatives of WORD, the Human Resource Council, several mental health providers, the Union Gospel Mission. Representatives of still other groups were in the audience.

Even one of the City Council’s most persistent critics, resident Bob Moore, came to the public hearing to endorse the emergency zoning. “This is doing good for the best interests of citizens,” he said, “and I support this.”