The Johnson Street at North Avenue Winter Shelter will be opening in November, says the City of Missoula Communications Director Ginny Merriam.

KGVO received a notification from one of the neighboring businesses that the center would be opening again this winter, and Merriam spoke to KGVO News to confirm the plan to provide safe winter shelter for the unhoused in Missoula.

“The city of Missoula at the instigation and innovation of the Missoula City Council with the mayor's agreement has operated an emergency winter shelter program for the last three winters,” said Merriam. “This will be the fourth winter, and the council does not want to be at the helm of a city that lets people freeze to death in the winter.”

Merriam recounted how the start of the COVID-19 pandemic complicated the work to house those less fortunate last winter.

“Last winter the Poverello Center had to start operating at one half capacity because of COVID-19, so that took their capacity from 175 down to 88 people they can serve every night, and that was not enough, and we knew that it wouldn't be enough, so we used the Johnson Street Community Center as emergency winter shelter last year.”

Merriam confirmed that the COVID 19 pandemic has not abated, but recently has become worse.

“We believed that COVID-19 would only be around last winter, and that it would be a one time thing,” she said. “Well, here we are in September of 2021, and we have more cases and worse COVID than we had a year ago. We had to make the decision to use the Johnson Street Shelter again this year because there will be a need. It slept about 135 people per night and it will be open from November 1 through April.”

After receiving complaints from area homeowners and businesses last winter, Merriam said the city will be adding extra security for the area.

“This year, we will have private security outside the building,” she said. “I don't know exactly what that will look like, but the hope is that it mitigates some of the undesired effects on the neighborhood, on Montana Rail Link Park and the nearby (Franklin) school.”

Merriam detailed the plans going forward regarding the effort to safely house those at risk this coming winter.
“We will have an item at the City Council Committee meeting next Wednesday, October 6, where we'll bring a contract to the city council to contract with the Poverello Center to run the program again,” she said. “Then the council will be asked to approve that we are scheduling a meeting open to the entire neighborhood with a ZOOM option coming up probably in the second week of October. We'll then hold an open house at Johnson Street on October 28th, and so there will be plenty of points for people to make public comment to us and to discuss with us how they would like to see the operation go this winter.”

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