With winter arriving early in Missoula, the City of Missoula has been working for the last several weeks to open an Emergency Winter Shelter on North Avenue West.

The building was formerly Sovereign Hope Evangelical Church (SHEC), but on November 1 will open as an emergency shelter.

What we learned very quickly with COVID, obviously, is the need for social distancing. And that our normal capacity of 175 people at the Poverello Center was really potentially a deadly situation.

Amy Allison Thompson is the Executive Director of the Poverello Center and she appeared on the ‘City Talk’ segment of KGVO’s Talk Back program on Friday. She said due to COVID, the number of people that could be housed nightly dropped by half.

“What we learned very quickly with COVID, obviously, is the need for social distancing. And that our normal capacity of 175 people at the Poverello Center was really potentially a deadly situation,” said Allison Thompson. “Because of that we are following the guidelines of the CDC and the Health Department, and in April we actually reduced our capacity from 175 people down to 88 people.”

Allison Thompson said the Emergency Winter Shelter on North Avenue will help to balance the risks for those who have no place to stay.

“Something I like to point out to folks is that right now what we're trying to do is balance this factor that gets so cold that people will die, but also if we have an over packed shelter and COVID hits, people will also die,” she said. “That is why we have decided to open up this secondary location. That is a new place which I know for some is frustrating, but what we're really trying to do is balance these two terrible situations.”

Allison Thompson described the layout of the shelter.

“The main room kind of the larger sanctuary area is really going to be our main area for sleeping,” she said. “There's also another area next to that, that has tables and that kind of thing that is going to be our day room area where folks can sit at a table, play a game, or that kind of thing. There’s also a place for folks to eat and then we'll also have a safe space for women to sleep as well.”

City of Missoula Communications Director Ginny Merriam laid out the financial aspect of the shelter.

“It is actually being funded almost completely by federal money aimed at COVID mitigation, and that’s $339,947,” said Merriam. “In addition, the county and the city each have contributed $50,000, so the local money is very small, and the federal money is very big and we are very grateful it is COVID money. We can stress again, this is a one time COVID response situation.”

The shelter will be staffed 24/7 by personnel from the Poverello Center.

One local business owner called to complain that he was not notified that the shelter would be opening almost right across from his store, however, Merriam said several letters and notices had gone out to area businesses, neighborhood councils and even to Southgate Mall.

There will be an open house for the public to view the Emergency Shelter on Thursday, October 29 from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the shelter, located at 1919 North Avenue West.