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The letter below was submitted to City Council and County Commissioners with 211 community members joining the original nine organizations. Thank you to everyone who made our unhoused neighbors a priority.

Why this is an issue we're working on today:

The April 10 closure of Missoula’s Emergency Winter Shelter on Johnson Street left dozens of Missoulians with nowhere to go. Overnight, urban camping in our community exploded, sparking public outcry, health and safety concerns, and illustrating the need for year-round emergency shelter in our community.

Leaders of a group of organizations that provide housing and houseless services have been meeting since April to address this troubling situation. We will be asking our city and county leaders to include funding for year-round emergency shelter in their FY24 budgets  we ask you to join us in adding your voice to this effort by signing on to the letter below. Time is of the essence, as budget deliberations are well underway. Please sign on by June 10.

This is not a problem for government alone to solve. Local nonprofit direct-service providers do heroic work every day to help unhoused Missoulians find shelter and housing. You can support their work by contributing to the Housing Solutions Fund, which helps precariously-housed Missoulians stay in housing or access housing quickly.

Please share this letter (below) and this fact sheet about urban camping/emergency shelter with others in your circle.

Missoula’s public, nonprofit, business, and faith communities have a long history of working together to address local challenges. Please join us in addressing this one.

Unhoused Missoulians: two stories

Jim came to stay at the Poverello Center several months ago, after losing his job, then his housing, during COVID. He secured another job in food service, and was excelling at it – until he broke his arm in an accident and once again was out of work. When he was able to return, he started saving money to get into housing – but when his father died back east, Jim had to

use those savings to attend his dad’s funeral. He then returned to Missoula and has again begun the long process of saving money. When he’s not working, Jim is an active volunteer in the Pov kitchen and elsewhere around the shelter.

Grace is a 70-year-old woman whose husband died several months ago. Her only income is Social Security, which was not enough for her to pay her bills and keep her housed. This week, after living for six months at the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space, working with staff every day to find housing, Grace will move into an apartment of her own.

To the Mayor, the City Council and Board of County Commissioners:

The recent dramatic increase in urban camping in Missoula underscores the urgent need for safe, legal shelter year-round for Missoula’s unhoused citizens. Those of us leading or supporting efforts to address houselessness write to urge you to include funding in the City and County FY24 budgets to support year-round emergency shelter. We recognize and champion Missoula’s goal of developing diverse housing options over the long term -- but the current crisis demands additional shelter. Our community must respond immediately to this urgent need.

In winter 2022-2023, 794 unique individuals stayed at the Emergency Winter Shelter (EWS), a 46% increase over winter 2021-2022. The shelter slept more than 100 people on 132 consecutive nights this winter. By contrast, the EWS slept more than 100 people on only two nights in 2021-2022. When the Winter Shelter closed April 10 of this year, dozens of unhoused neighbors had nowhere else to go. Overnight, the number of neighbors seeking shelter in the urban area increased dramatically, sparking public outcry and health and safety concerns. The Poverello Center is full to capacity and unable to absorb the increase in the number of people seeking shelter. More than 100 people are on the waiting list for a pallet shelter at the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space, which is also full.

The Poverello Center has agreed to staff and operate the shelter if funding is available. The operation could be implemented at the Johnson Street location, with the approval of appropriate Health Department variances and some structural improvements. The Pov has successfully operated an Emergency Winter Shelter out of the Johnson Street location for the past three years. 

We can see today what our community looks like without the additional shelter beds that have been available during the winter months. Concerns are not limited to unsafe and unsightly urban camps. The human cost is also great: Missoulians for whom Johnson Street is the only option include working people contributing to our tax base and economy who simply cannot afford housing in this challenging market.

In addition, financial resources and staff capacity are overburdened across the nonprofit sector and throughout numerous public-sector departments. Outreach staff at local nonprofit agencies struggle to reach unhoused neighbors to provide medical treatment, behavioral health support, housing resources, and other critical services. Numerous City departments are spending an inordinate amount of time responding to concerns about urban camps, and cleaning up camps that are posing threats to health, safety, and our local ecosystems. Opening an additional shelter facility will help mitigate many of these challenges and decrease the unsustainable financial and staff burdens currently being felt across City departments and throughout our nonprofit health and human-services community. 

As you know, federal COVID funding has largely funded emergency shelter and other services in recent years. That money has run out. Regrettably, despite a record budget surplus, the state has offered little support for local communities dealing with the shelter crisis. The nonprofit sector alone cannot shoulder the responsibility for supporting year-round shelter.

We are grateful to the City Council and Board of County Commissioners for your demonstrated concern for your unhoused constituents and the organizations and programs assisting them, and urge you to include funding for year-round shelter in the City and County FY24 budgets.


- Susan Hay Patrick, CEO, United Way of Missoula County

- Damian Chase-Begay, Ph.D., Director and Health Officer, Missoula City-County Health Department 

- Jill Bonny, Executive Director, Poverello Center

- Ruth Burke, Executive Director, Human Resource Council 

- Jen Euell, Executive Director, YWCA of Missoula

- Jim Hicks, Executive Director, Hope Rescue Mission

- Skye McGinty, Executive Director, All Nations Health Center 

- Sam Oliver, Executive Director, Missoula Housing Authority 

- Lara Salazar, CEO, Partnership Health Center

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