The Poverello Center on Tuesday said it anticipates an increase in the number of homeless and unsheltered individuals in Missoula after Congress let an eviction moratorium expire over the weekend.

Jill Bonny, who officially stepped in as the shelter's new director this week, said the combined impacts of the pandemic's resurgence and the end of the eviction moratorium could create the perfect storm.

“We're already seeing an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness, and especially those experiencing homelessness for the first time,” Bonny said. “We anticipate the lifting of this eviction moratorium will make it worse. We'll see an increase in the number of people living in encampments, in their cars and other places not meant for habitation.”

An estimated 11.4 million adult renters are behind on rent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In Montana, Census estimates suggest that 400 residents are at risk of eviction in the next two months.

Still pinched by the pandemic, the Pov remains under CDC guidelines that cap its capacity at 88 people per night. Under normal circumstances, the shelter can sleep 150 people. If more individuals lose housing, it could challenge the shelter's ability to find solutions.

“We're full every single night,” Bonny said. “We're concerned about the impact this lift will have on the Missoula community and the people experiencing homelessness.”

Concerns from a housing perspective go beyond the Poverello. City officials on Monday told the Missoula Current that the potential displacement of more residents due to evictions could have a ripple effect across the community.

According to a self-reported Census survey, around 9.1% of renters in Missoula County said they were behind on rent as of July, or were concerned about losing housing.

“We want to do anything we can to prevent displacement or eviction because it has so many downstream effects for individuals to have that on their rental record, especially in a market as competitive and tight as our market is right now,” said Montana James, deputy director with the Office of Community Development in Missoula.

The city and county last month began efforts to expand the options for Missoula's homeless residents, though the effort remains ongoing.

The proposal, dubbed Operation Shelter, would help fill three separate issues identified in the city’s homeless population, including a place to camp legally outdoors, the need for a temporary outdoor shelter, and increasing opportunities for transitional housing.

“We're anticipating a location with a stand-up shelter operation, but I'm not sure of the timeline on that,” Bonny said of the effort. “Looking forward, the emergency winter shelter will be vital in addressing the challenge for our community and keeping people alive so they don't die on the street.”

Many of those who lost a job or were furloughed during the pandemic fell months behind on their rent. But Montana received around $350 million in federal funding to help tenants pay overdue rent and utility bills.

According to the Associated Press, the Montana Department of Commerce is reviewing hundreds of applications submitted by both renters and landlords. The city is working with the state to connect people to the program.

“It’s an important tool to get folks connected to,” said James. “They can also administer them directly to landlords. Property managers and landlords in the community who are dealing with residents facing eviction can apply for the funds themselves to pay for the back rent and not proceed with eviction.”

Bonny takes the reigns of the Poverello at a challenging time complicated by the pandemic, reduced capacity and growing needs. But she's not new to the issues. She's been with the Pov for seven years and spent most of them working with homeless veterans.

Serving the homeless will require increasing creativity, she said.

“The biggest thing on the forefront is what's happening with the pandemic. The economic effects of this will go on for quite a while,” Bonny said. “I'm trying to figure out creative ways to serve as many of our vulnerable neighbors as we possibly can in the safest way we can.”

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