Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - The failure on November 8 of the $5.5 million yearly Crisis Services Levy is just beginning to reverberate through Missoula city and county agencies and services.

KGVO News spoke with the Director of Community Planning, Development, and Innovation for the City of Missoula, Erin Pehan specifically about the recent closing of the Authorized Camp Site at the end of Clark Fork Lane.

The Levy's Failure was Devastating to Many City and County Services

“With the sudden change of weather last week most residents at the Authorized Campsite transitioned to the emergency winter shelter,” began Pehan. “On Friday of last week we had just a small handful of residents remaining at the site and by Monday that handful of residents had left to stay with family or friends and the few remaining residents accepted our offer to fund a hotel stay while we continue to work with them on the next steps.”

Why the Authorized Camp Site Closed for the Winter

Pehan laid out the difficulties of keeping the Authorized Camp Site open as winter descended on Missoula.

“First and foremost was our difficulty in operating a site of that nature in the cold weather, so maintaining bathrooms and potable water to address health and safety issues, and then heating the camp in a way that didn't violate our local health ordinances,” she said. “We struggled with that tremendously last year, and then of course, as was well publicized, we also have a shortage of funds going into the winter season. We were relying on the passage of the crisis services levy to shore up our funding around this program and several others across the Operation Shelter initiative, and unfortunately, that levy failed.”

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Pehan said her fellow service providers in the county are also reeling from the loss of revenue to keep so many services for the houseless and other groups afloat.

“We know that we have enough funding to support all of the programs that we fund, including emergency shelter through the end of the fiscal year,” she said. “So in June or July of next year, we'll be having some difficult conversations with the community with City Council and with the Board of County Commissioners, about how we're going to further these programs and investments that we've made, and how we're going to continue to operate them. Ultimately, we will need additional support from the city and the county and hopefully the private sector as well to continue providing the life-saving services that we do today, and that's not even considering adding additional services to fill gaps; that is just to continue to do what we do today.”

Pehan said the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space (TSOS) will be transitioning out of the current tent facility on Highway 93 near the Buckhouse Bridge to hard-sided shelters near the Justice Center, hopefully in December.

“That project is moving ahead,” she said. “We anticipate about early to mid-December that the site will be open with more spots than they had at their prior site. That project is also funded through the end of the fiscal year and it is a commitment and a priority of the city and the county to keep that program funded. They're seeing fantastic outcomes in terms of connecting those men and women to permanent long-term and stable housing, and so we want to continue that effort.”

A Cloudy Future for the Houseless in Missoula

The future is cloudy for many of the services for the houseless population without funding from taxpayers that the Crisis Services levy would have provided.

Pehan said there may be some houseless individuals who may attempt to return to the Reserve Street Bridge campsite, which is fenced, gated, and signed as private property, and trespassers will be asked to leave the area by law enforcement.

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