Calling it an investment in Missoula, members of the City Council this week agreed to provide another $125,000 in financial incentives to help the emergency winter shelter recruit and retain workers.

With the added contribution, the city has now paid $436,000 to the Poverello Center to open and operate the winter shelter on Johnson Street. It represents roughly half of the shelter's $866,000 seasonal cost.

“Hiring became and has been a challenge – hiring across the city has been tough,” said Jesse Jaeger, the shelter's outreach coordinator. “We're working hard to create attractive, compensated positions so we can be hired up at full strength. We're still not there. We're half to two-thirds of the way there to fully staff the shelter.”

According to the Poverello, it was able to hire enough staff to open the facility on Nov. 1, but it's using employees from other areas of the organization to keep it open, resulting in overtime.

The shelter has said the model is unsustainable over the long-run and the additional revenue from the city will help offset the winter costs.

“Staffing is a challenge, given the current staffing situation nationally and in Missoula, and just given the ongoing nature of the challenging work you're asking us to do at the shelter,” said Emily Armstrong, the city's Reaching Home coordinator.

The additional funding will allow the Poverello to offer $500 in monthly bonuses to all staff at the end of each month, as well as an end-of-season bonus of $1,500.

Jaeger said the funding will help recruit new staff and retain existing staff for the duration of the winter shelter's season. It will also ensure the Poverello is able to fully staff that shelter and retain staff to maintain services to the homeless.

“These bonuses we're going to be offering throughout this winter season as a retention bonus are important to us to keep staff on during the winter season,” Jaeger said. “The larger bonus will encourage people to stay on the whole season. It's hard work to work at the shelter.”

The funding comes from the city's portion of the American Rescue Plan.

Despite the lingering concerns of some, the Missoula City Council in October approved an initial round of funding to the Poverello and approved opening the winter shelter for the second straight year.

Even then, shelter managers said staffing had emerged as a potential challenge. Members of the council this week unanimously approved the additional $125,000.

“Hiring has been difficult across all levels,” said council member Julie Merritt. “This is important for the safety of everyone involved to ensure we have the facilities appropriately staffed.”