While winter may be months away, the City of Missoula this week began searching for a facility that could be used as an emergency winter shelter as Covid continues to limit the capacity at Missoula’s established shelters.
Missoula last year opened an emergency winter shelter off Johnson Street in the Midtown area to address capacity issues at the Poverello and Salvation Army. The city-owned property has the capacity to sleep 150 people and could be used again this year, though repairs are needed, according to the city.
Those repairs could begin in August, though the city first wants to hear from other property owners who may have a facility to sleep 150 people and are willing to lease it from November to April.
“Under normal circumstances, supplementing the Poverello Center’s 175-person capacity with additional shelter at the Salvation Army has been adequate,” the city said in a news release. “However, the continuing presence of COVID-19 in communities nationwide means the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has kept the capacities at homeless shelters limited.”
Last winter, safe practices made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the Poverello’s capacity to 88 people. That prompted the city to open the Johnson Street facility, which was intended to operate until March 31.
However, the city extended that deadline to April and allocated $450,000 in grants to the Poverello for shelter services.
While the city tests the waters for another winter shelter this year, it’s also working in partnership with Missoula County on a plan dubbed Operation Shelter.
Those assigned to a local incident team have recommended three separate sites across the city to accommodate legal camping, temporary shelter and transitional housing. The city unveiled the plan in early July and the county last week joined the effort.
“The commissioners and I, along with the Missoula City Council, will be operating from a collective understanding that doing nothing is not an option, and doing nothing will further exacerbate an already difficult situation and ultimately cost more than anything we can do that’s proactive and intentional,” Mayor John Engen said recently.
Property owners interested in leasing their facility should contact Eran Pehan, the director of Community Planning, Development and Innovation at the City of Missoula at firstname.lastname@example.org before Aug. 1.