MISSOULA — The City of Missoula purchased the Sleepy Inn Motel in April of 2020 for $1.1 million to act as a non-congregant shelter for use during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The facility is not seeing much downtime, having served 350 people over 20 months at a cost of $50,000 per month.
“The fear was that if we didn't provide a place for them to kind of get away from everybody else and the general public, then we would have had a lot more contagion,” explained Missoula County Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Director Adriane Beck.
Beck was making plans to shut down the Sleepy Inn just before the holidays but in a matter of days, the omicron variant changed the COVID-19 landscape across the country. Now, as the Missoula City-County Health Department (MCCHD) tallies about 140 new COVID-19 cases each day, the need for the Sleepy Inn has never been greater.
“As our community cases increase, our referrals to the non-congregate shelter also increase,” Beck told MTN News.
Despite the dilapidated exterior of the motel, day-to-day expenses to keep the shelter running aren’t cheap.
“We have security costs, obviously the utility costs to heat and water the facility, and then we also have staffing costs that enable us to take care of the individuals that are there but also take care of the facility itself,” Beck explained.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is footing the bill for the Sleppy Inn through its pandemic-born program. “So non-congregate shelter is an activity that is eligible for communities to apply for reimbursement as a response to COVID-19,” Beck noted.
FEMA will reimburse the county for 100% of the operating costs of the Sleepy Inn but that deal won’t last forever.
“The most recent Presidential directive has that funding through April 1st,” Beck said adding that the need for the Sleepy Inn as a non-congregate shelter will be evaluated as the pandemic plays out in Missoula County whether or not the is federal money available.
“Certainly, as we go through the winter months here -- as long as we're continuing to see high case numbers in the community at large -- it’s probably a safe bet that the non-congregate shelter will remain in operation. But as the temperatures start to moderate and hopefully as our community numbers begin to come down, I think it will be reasonable for us to begin to look at how we shut that down.” - Missoula Co, OES Director Adriane Beck