We're proud to be part of a local coalition working on this winter's Temporary Safe Outdoor Space.
What is it?
Missoula’s Temporary Safe Outdoor Space is a safe, healthy, secure, staffed (24/7) environment, on private land, that prioritizes serving – with dignity – people experiencing homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic who are not accessing existing services or resources (approximately 40 people). A goal of Missoula TSOS is to offer people safe space during the pandemic and link them to appropriate, sustainable housing.
Missoula TSOS is a partnership between United Way of Missoula County, Hope Rescue Mission and other nonprofits, the faith community, law enforcement and other first responders, private businesses, county emergency management, and Reaching Home: Missoula’s 10-Year Plan to End homelessness. It opened in mid-December of 2020 and currently houses 25 residents in 20 tents (as of 2.19.21).
Missoula TSOS includes the following facilities and services:
Why is this necessary?
For health and safety reasons, no local providers of shelter, food, or services are operating at full capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many unhoused people who are not reached by available services, or who face barriers to accessing services, are living on the streets or in their vehicles, which is not safe during a Montana winter. Many of those individuals have served our country and are veterans of the U.S. military. A number of them are currently living in unsafe environments, including in camps off Reserve Street. There are increased reports of people camping in local neighborhoods. These locations lack access to trash removal or bathrooms and pose an environmental, health and safety hazard for those who are camping and the community. Having a safe, legal, secure environment with health precautions and links to services reduces the demands on emergency responders and the health care system and results in better outcomes for everyone.
Where is it?
Missoula’s Temporary SOS is located on a parcel of privately owned land on Hwy. 93 South, below Miller Creek Road.
How many households are expected to use the TSOS?
There will be 20 campsites with tents, each on a platform spaced 12 feet apart. Maximum occupancy: 40 people.
How does this differ from the encampments on Reserve Street and elsewhere?
Missoula TSOS is a legal, staffed, secure site on private land with appropriate resources, including social services. It is a partnership between many diverse public, faith, and nonprofit stakeholders, all of whom believe this project can result in better outcomes for TSOS participants and the community as a whole.
Does the TSOS replace the Reserve Street encampments?
No. While more than half the people formerly occupying the Reserve Street camps have moved to the TSOS voluntarily, an estimated 15-25 people remain in those camps. Case managers estimate that at least half of them would move if space was available at the TSOS, which is currently full. There has been no forced relocation to the TSOS from Reserve Street, nor will there be. Also, Centers for Disease Control guidance strongly recommends against “razing” encampments, like those on Reserve Street, during the pandemic. The TSOS was offered as a safe, legal, staffed option, which many in the Reserve Street encampments chose.
What are the requirements for staying in the TSOS?
The TSOS is considered a (“low-barrier” site, and participation is behavior-based. 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.
Who is managing the TSOS?
Logistics (equipment and services such as camp set-up and trash removal, propane, portable toilets) are being directed by United Way of Missoula County and supported by Missoula County’s Office of Emergency Management. Hope Rescue Mission, in partnership with members of the local faith community – principally River of Life and Cornerstone churches – manages the site, providing outreach and case management, with the goal of linking TSOS participants with services, including long-term housing. (Three residents have moved into permanent housing as of 2.8.21).
How is it working?
So far, the TSOS has been operating as intended. Four camp residents have secured permanent housing; others have secured housing vouchers and hope to soon move into permanent housing. Some people who have lacked identification cards for many years have secured them, making them eligible to apply for jobs and/or benefits. Some are taking steps toward recovering from longstanding alcohol or drug problems and/or are seeking help for mental-health issues. Many camp residents report feeling safe and secure for the first time in memory. Site managers report residents’ full compliance with the rules and conduct expectations at the TSOS.
There have been no law enforcement calls to the site. There have been a few medical-emergency responses at the site, principally for one resident who was having trouble managing his diabetes. The situation has been resolved.
How is the TSOS funded?
The land has been donated at no charge. Ramp-up costs included the costs of site preparation, sleeping bags, tents, platforms, heating elements, and staffing. These costs were partially covered by federal CARES Act funding through Dec. 31 and partially through community donations and support. Community partners involved in establishing the TSOS are actively seeking additional funding to sustain the site through the pandemic.
How long will the TSOS exist?
The site is COVID-related and envisioned to last throughout the pandemic, funding permitted.
Are there opportunities to support the TSOS?
To donate funds or goods:
GOODS: Donations of supplies and goods may be dropped at the Hope Thrift Boutique | Hope Rescue Mission (hopemontana.org)702 SW Higgins. Please do not drop off donations at the TSOS. To apply to work or volunteer in the encampment: www.hopemontana.org; scroll down to the application form.
What else is important to know about the TSOS?
In the absence of appropriate, attainable, safe housing for a population facing significant barriers to housing, the TSOS was created as a COVID-safe alternative to the illegal Reserve Street camps, and as an alternative to having people camp in neighborhoods or live in their cars. The TSOS did not create the longstanding issue of homelessness on Missoula’s south side, nor is it able to solve it. While site backers and organizers are committed to the success of the TSOS, we also continue to work every day to advance the goals of Reaching Home: Missoula’s 10-Year Plan to End Homeless; i.e., to find and implement long-term solutions that will make homelessness in Missoula rare, brief, and nonrecurring.
For further information:
Susan Hay Patrick, CEO, United Way of Missoula County: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jim Hicks, Executive Director, Hope Rescue Mission: TSOS@hopemontana.org
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