Between the Missoula Country Club and Peak Health and Wellness Center on Highway 93 South a homeless camp is under construction by an amalgam of city, county and community groups.

At a ZOOM press conference on Friday, Susan Hay Patrick, CEO of the Missoula County United Way; Eric Legvold with United Way, Jim Hicks of the Hope Rescue Mission and Adriane Beck, Director of the Missoula County Office of Emergency Management answered questions from the media about the project, called a Temporary Safe Outdoor Space, or TSOS.

Legvold provided a capsule description of the project.

“The Temporary Safe Outdoor Space is a safe, healthy, secure staffed resource and service rich environment that prioritizes people experiencing homelessness or who are not accessing existing services or resources, and who choose not to live in congregate shelter,” said Legvold. “The temporary safe outdoor space will provide access to temporary tent shelters and warmth, proper sanitation and waste removal, frequent wellness and COVID screenings as well as 24 seven staffing providing outreach and on site case management.”

Legvold said construction is already underway on the north side of Highway 93 South not far past the Missoula Country Club, not far outside the walking and bicycle path.

“We are currently building out the necessary road structure to ensure that emergency and utility services are able to access a location,” he said. “Following closely behind will be the establishment of the temporary tent sites in base-camp operations. I do want to say that we are achieving this all through a collective impact model, meaning that together by operating with a shared vision and utilizing each organization's special skill set we have achieved our shared goal of providing safe, secure and healthy outdoor living space for our communities’ unsheltered members.”

Since the camp, which is designed to hold no more that 40 people in 20 two-person tents placed on raised platforms, is located right along a busy road with vehicles travelling at highway speeds, safety for those who may be walking, is a primary issue.

“The safety concern is huge,” said Hicks. “We have met with the sheriff's department. we've met with MSSE. We've met with the Missoula Rural Fire Department. The land we are on is private property, so there'll be no trespassing and that will help us in some ways deal with some of the safety issues, as well as the facility being staffed 24/7 so that the residents cannot just come and go, but they must check in and out for essential services. It's not a prison, but they can leave the encampment for essential services, and we are still in the process of defining what those essential services are.”

Legvold was asked about the timeline for the camp’s completion and occupancy.

“We are currently building out the access road for emergency and utility vehicles so that we can ensure that we have the safety protocols in place,” he said “From there, we will build out the tent site and get the tents up on their platforms. So yes, it's a moving target, and yes, it is a fast moving project. We can only go as fast as what we are able to accomplish in a day, but the projection would be hopefully that it will be ready by the end of next week or December 1.”

Hay Patrick said when the vision of the TSOS was first suggested, she reviewed all the potential negative reactions that she has heard over the years regarding the issue of homelessness, and said she’s heard them all.

“Those of us leading this collaboration have been around a long time,” said Hay Patrick. “We are accustomed to hearing poor people blamed for their poverty and homeless people being blamed for their homelessness. I've been working on homeless issues for 40 years. There isn't much I haven't heard in the way of disparagement, both of people experiencing homelessness and those of us working to solve the problem.”

All participants will be required to initial and sign a written agreement – both when they enter initially, and whenever they come and go from the site – that includes behavioral expectations, rights, and responsibilities. Only approved participants in TSOS are allowed on the property, with a No Trespassing policy posted and enforced.

The opening date is projected to be December 1.


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