The City of Missoula has begun to plan ahead for its upcoming Winter Shelter Program.

City Councilor Gwen Jones told KGVO News on Tuesday that the city is looking for help from the community to find a property that could be leased to help those experiencing homelessness this coming winter.

“I'd rather prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” said Jones. “So I think it was good to start these talks early and try and get all of our ducks in a row. We're trying to anticipate what's going to happen this coming winter with our homeless population. Six weeks ago, I would have thought that this having to distance everyone in the shelter, maybe we would not have to do that this winter. But honestly, with the Delta variant, I think it's becoming much more likely that we're still in this pandemic, and will have issues like that.”

Jones said there is a possibility that many more families may be experiencing homelessness this winter, due to the current real estate market.

“What we're seeing is people really down on the bottom rungs that are at a survival level,” she said. “There are more of those people heading into homelessness as they lose their housing, and we're seeing some of that in Missoula, as we've seen housing prices and rents skyrocket. So the national forecast is for a significant increase in homeless individuals. So as a result, it makes all the more sense to just be planning for this winter.”

Jones said the most straightforward way to approach the situation is to simply ask the public for help directly.

“I sit in a lot of meetings where we're discussing this, and then sometimes you need to kind of take a step back look at the big picture and maybe there's some great location somewhere that property owner wants to engage in this and be part of the solution,” she said. “So that's why we thought it this is important to do community ask to see what other options are out there.”

Jones detailed the specifications for a possible winter shelter.

“It needs to be an open floor plan for about 150 people socially distanced, which works much better,” she said. “It needs to have plumbing facilities, water, this kind of thing, and then hopefully next to public transportation. So these are the main criteria and we'll see if maybe there is something that would work out there and a willing property owner who really wants to have this conversation.”

Anyone who may have a solution to the winter shelter housing issue is asked to contact Erin Pehan, Director of Community Planning, Development and Innovation at the City of Missoula at before August 1.


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