Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - For the third year, the City of Missoula in partnership with the Poverello Center has operated the Johnson Street Emergency Winter Shelter to provide a warm place to sleep and food for the houseless in Missoula.

The Emergency Winter Shelter has been at Full Capacity all Winter

KGVO News spoke to Emily Armstrong, Houseless Program Manager for the City of Missoula for some statistics over the winter as the shelter prepares to close its operations in April.

“The Emergency Winter Shelter will close this year on April 10, and that’s the update,” began Armstrong. “It has been open since the beginning of November. I think it actually if I remember correctly opened on October 31 of this year and has been extremely highly utilized for the whole season. We've seen higher numbers than ever before, and even then, last year, we've had the large majority of nights over 100 people staying there, which only happened twice last year.”

Armstrong said the shelter was filled to capacity nearly every night during the winter.

“Early in the season we were responding to those capacity needs and worked really closely with the Poverello Center who was great and we really quickly expanded space inside the building,” she said. “We also were supported by some extra funding to expand staffing capacity to respond to the increased need from neighbors. Since then, it's continued to operate at a pretty high number of neighbors every night. We're glad it's warming so that by the time the shelter closes, hopefully it'll be warm enough for folks who won’t have to have to go back to being sheltered.”

The Bitter Cold Snaps were a Challenge as the Shelter had to Increase Capacity

Armstrong said the bitter cold snaps when temperatures plummeted below zero were a challenge for the shelter.

“The Poverello Center worked really closely with our police department and our security team and other houseless service providers to enact some really quick responses on those super cold negative degree nights,” she said. “They made their policies a little bit more flexible so that more and more folks could stay there, including some folks who generally weren't able to stay there because of behavioral issues that have come up in the past. They generally softened those policies for those nights just to make sure we could keep neighbors safe and warm. Then, once the cold snap ended, they kind of went back to their typical policies and did all of that, like I said, in collaboration with their partners.”

Armstrong said one development that may affect how the houseless will be served next winter is that the current Johnson Street Emergency Winter Shelter may not be available next winter.

The Johnson Street Shelter may not be Available Next Winter

“There are a few different factors at play,” she said. “The site that the Johnson Street Shelter building sits on is slated for redevelopment and will have to go through a Brownfields process. We're still working with our Brownfields team to figure out what the timeline for that is. There's also the question of ongoing funding. This program has been funded with COVID dollars through the Cares Act and the American Rescue Plan Act for the past three years. That funding is running out and ending and we don't currently have a sustainable funding source for this program. We attempted to create one with the Crisis Services Levy in November which failed. So that is a factor that will have to take into consideration.”

Armstrong said the City of Missoula and the Poverello Center will make every effort to solve the issue of an emergency winter shelter for next winter during the upcoming spring and summer.

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