Viewpoint: Poverello staff deserve kindness, appreciation
This summer, we’ve all heard the conversations about urban camping, the Johnson Street shelter, and the number of people living unhoused. This housing crisis is due to Missoula’s sky-high rent and record-low housing vacancy rate.
What gets lost are the people of The Poverello Center (The Pov). Of course, we mean the people The Pov serves, each with unique stories that often do not match the stereotypes. However, we are also talking about the people who work at The Pov and are rarely mentioned.
Many know our incredible executive director, Jill Bonny. She attends public meetings, listens to neighbors, works with the city and county, and tries to find solutions to the complicated needs of our community. With all of this, she always focuses on her primary responsibility - to provide dignified help to people who need it. Working alongside Jill, we have over 70 dedicated and extraordinary staff. Some of these folks have struggled with homelessness themselves.
Last year, The Pov gave 1,600 people a safe place to sleep and helped 265 veterans with specialized services, transitional housing, and case management. These team members work with people who are facing the most challenging circumstances. They make people feel seen and cared for with essentials like shampoo, a toothbrush, or a coat and connect people to resources in the community. They help dozens become former guests each year by helping them find permanent housing.
The bright orange shirts around town are the Homeless Outreach Team - aka the HOT Team. Last year, they had 6,000 face-to-face contacts to distribute sack lunches and supplies. They build relationships and trust, which is critical to get people the help they need.
The Pov served over 100,000 meals and 52,000 sack lunches, and our grocery rescue truck picked up nearly 400,000 pounds of food. We love hearing the stories of the new and creative ways the kitchen team turns this food into something delicious.
In September, we opened the Johnson Street Shelter. We know the building, location, and timing aren’t ideal. However, the team at The Pov is doing its best to serve a population with complex needs and limited resources.
The Pov team and Board are listening and adapting to concerns. We are adjusting how people access the Johnson Street Shelter and developing a parking plan to improve the safety of staff and clients and alleviate some neighborhood issues, including creative strategies to encourage guests to stick around campus during the day. Although we won’t be able to make everyone happy, we are working hard to support our guests and respond to the neighborhood's needs.
As the Board, we can’t adequately express our gratitude for the staff and the nearly 500 volunteers who do the often invisible work. They do it in the cold winter and blazing summer. They do it even when they are at capacity. They do it because their work matters and because all humans deserve to have their basic needs met.
We all want a Missoula where we don’t need The Pov. Where everyone has access to health care, a roof over their head, and enough food and water. Until that day comes, The Pov is open 365 days a year. Missoula is a better place because of the work of this incredible group of people. Next time you see Jill, a HOT team member, or someone else from The Pov, please be kind and say thank you. If you want to learn more or donate, visit our website, thepoverellocenter.org.
The Poverello Board of Directors: Chris Chitty, Tara Jensen, Paul Barnes, Liz Davies, Merry Hutton, Jordan Hess, Travis Brier and Brad Davis