Johnson Street Shelter Neighbors 

As neighbors who live a block from the Johnson Street shelter, we were dismayed and unsurprised to read about the city’s rhetoric and the continued lack of neighborhood engagement around the shelter’s opening in the recent Missoula Current article.

Homelessness in our city, like so many others, has become an increasing problem. First and foremost, we want to express that the issue is heartbreaking and complicated and will take more than a few actions to solve. We can't imagine the pain that being unhoused causes and know that people in this crisis deserve compassion, empathy, and a clear path to find emergency shelter and other housing resources. We also understand the difficult task in front of the city, as there are no easy answers. However, opening the Johnson Street shelter without ample and earnest communication and input from neighbors is not a viable solution.

During the winter months, many aspects of our neighborhood shift due to the open shelter, from the increased presence of theft, human waste, trash, drug use, used needles, and more in our alleys, at the new Rail Link Park, and along the Bitterroot Trail. Increased disturbances result in many calls to the police and fire departments. This is a significant burden for our residential neighborhood to bear.

The situation is not the fault of the houseless but instead a product of poor decisions and management by city leaders. Our neighborhood has managed thus far, especially with the promise of future redevelopment at the site, but we are increasingly concerned by the City’s poor handling of the Johnson Street shelter re-opening, the lack of adequate health and safety measures, and the potential to have the shelter become a permanent fixture without any community input.

The lack of engagement with the neighborhood around the re-opening has been shocking, to say the least. All communication around the shelter to date has been initiated by the neighbors themselves, and only after the administrative decision was made. There has been no organic outreach by phone, email, flyer, canvassing, or town halls, and the few City Council committee meetings addressing the issue have had little advance advertisement and take place during the workday.

Direct outreach via email by neighbors to the Hess administration has received no response. According to reporting, the excuse by Mayor Hess for the lack of communication by the city was an urgent need to address downtown camps, but in the months since he made his emergency announcement, neither the mayor nor his staff took the time to listen. In our eyes, communication with communities and neighborhoods affected by impactful decisions is also urgent. At the very least, listening to our concerns is part of the process of finding a solution that works best for Missoula.

We applaud our Ward 6 City Council members Sandra Vasecka and Kristen Jordan for listening to and speaking up for our neighborhood. We share their concerns that this shelter will become permanent in a residential zone, especially with the millions of dollars the city is about to invest in a building that’s been falling apart for years. Given past actions and lack of communication around the shelter, it’s easy to see this scenario play out.

Neighbors of the Johnson Street shelter are willing to be constructive, communicative, and compassionate partners with the city to create a vibrant Missoula and housing opportunities for those in need. It’s time city leaders share that sentiment.

Johnson Street Shelter Neighbors: Zeb Brewer, Dixie Cook, Kevin Farmer, Lander Karath