Caroline Weiss

Missoula officials say they will not meet the November goal to relocate a legal homeless camp from private land in Missoula County to the intersection of Mullan Road and Broadway, a lot shared with the Missoula County Detention Center.

Blayne Metz, shelter project coordinator with Missoula County, said that while construction is underway, shipping and construction delays have thrown off the county’s timeline.

Construction crews are racing against the approaching winter to relocate residents from the outdoor camp to the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space, or TSOS, off Mullan Road.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that the timeline is moving firmly into the December, mid-December territory,” Metz said.

Shipping and material construction delays, caused by the covid-19 pandemic, have slowed progress on electrical work at the new TSOS site, which has led to the missed deadline, Metz said.

Missoula County approved an additional $492,000 from the county budget to construction company Knife River on Oct. 25, bringing the total to $864,228. The additional funding will go towards Knife River subcontractor Jacobson Electrical to speed up the process, according to paperwork filed by Metz with the Commissioners’ Office.

The TSOS is run by the Christian nonprofit Hope Rescue Mission in collaboration with Missoula County. Since it was set up in December 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the TSOS has connected 35 people with permanent housing and provided services to more than 180, according to Hope Rescue Mission.

Staff at the site work to assist residents with needs from acquiring valid identification to resume building to navigating complex housing assistance programs. Residents must be working towards permanent housing to remain at the site.

The site, which is currently on private property leased to Hope Rescue Mission for one dollar, was originally a temporary measure. Due to its success, county officials and Hope Rescue Mission decided to continue the project in a new location, next to the County Detention Center.

The county hopes the relocation will create a new hub of accessible services for homeless people, Metz said. The new TSOS will be much larger, more permanent and located next to other services and housing options, including the Trinity Project, an apartment complex that provides affordable housing to the long-term homeless and low-income people.

The current site houses up to 40 individuals in canvas tents with cots, sleeping bags, propane heaters and locked storage for valuables.

The new site will swap the canvas tents for shelters made of aluminum, fiberglass and plastic, manufactured by Pallet Shelter, based in Everett, Washington. It will house up to 124 people with 30 bunkhouses, two restroom facilities and an office building.

Jessica Colton, site coordinator and peer support mentor at the TSOS for Hope Rescue Mission, said all the beds at the new site are taken. There is a waitlist of approximately 50 people.

Unlike the current outdoor site, which lacks plumbing and is powered by a generator, the new shelters will have electricity, air conditioning, water and, most importantly this time of year, heat and better insulation.

On Oct. 18, Colton said Hope Rescue Mission was still operating under the impression from the county that the move would take place in the first or second week of November.

However, TSOS resident Sunshine Cornelius already had doubts.

“I don’t think they’re going to be done in time. No way,” Cornelius said.

While Hope Rescue Mission runs the day-to-day aspects of the TSOS, the county is spearheading the relocation. Some Hope Rescue Mission staff attended a training with the county in mid-October to learn more about the new Pallet Shelters and their maintenance.

Metz is not worried about the transition between sites. The Hope Rescue Mission staff have been working with TSOS residents to prepare for the move. When the new site is ready, Metz said it will just be a matter of taking down the canvas tents at the old location and cutting the ribbon on the new location.

For now, the trouble is getting the new site finished and keeping residents warm until the electrical work is sorted out.

“We have to think about the people. It’s cold,” Metz said. “Even if we had all the pallets erected tomorrow, we wouldn’t have power.”