MISSOULA - The Johnson Street Emergency Shelter in Missoula is shifting from winter only to a year-round facility in mid-September.
The City of Missoula and Missoula County plan to invest $1.7 million to run the shelter year-round for one full year.
City officials have said previously the spike of unhoused people and the issues around it have forced their hand, requiring them to open the shelter sooner than in past years.
With the open house for the Johnson Street Emergency Shelter approaching, neighbors have some opinions about the shelter moving to year-round.
“We respect them so… that’s all we ask in return," said Katherine Felde who lives very close to the shelter.
She feels for those who have nowhere else to go, yet is on edge at home now more than ever.
“I just don’t feel comfortable sometimes or as safe as I used to," Felde told MTN News.
During the winter, Felde says people came through her gate and into her yard on multiple occasions.
“I’d find candy wrappers right at my picnic table and that’s 30 feet from my bedroom.”
After that situation, Felde asked her son to move in with her and upped her security.
“We had to put padlocks on all the gates in the back,” Felde said
Sarah Erickson is another neighbor who feels stressed.
Erickson has owned her home for five years, but since the Johnson Street shelter began emergency winter operations she’s noticed changes.
“Anytime I would drive by there was always people running out into the street, yelling, always emergency vehicles over there. My house is at the end of the alley and there was a lot more trash that blew into my backyard. When it’s active, there pretty much ends up trash that I have to pick up every day. When there are people occupying that shelter, the dog park [nearby] pretty much doesn’t get used and the playground because in itself turns into another camp right next to the camp.” - Sarah Erickson
Erickson thinks about moving “Each time I drive by and there’s some chaos over there."
Now that the Johnston Street shelter will operate for one full year — from September 2023 until August 2024 — Erickson is even more worried for the neighborhood.
“Well, we’ve seen what has happened over by the Poverello to what that neighborhood looks like as they built that new building, ok you know it reaches capacity, but if you drive on the blocks around there’s just tents, trash, camps," she told MTN News. "That’s what I feel it could end up looking like over here, it’ll just expand, expand, and slowly come into these neighborhoods."
Erickson has a daughter and fears for her safety, “I have a teenage daughter that until she got her driver's license, rode the bus to Sentinel, and the bus stop for getting there is right over there, so made for a very unnerving situation.”
"[The Johnson Street shelter] seems like a very temporary solution to a problem, a holistic problem, that’s not being addressed," Erickson stated.
One part of the problem, Erickson noted, is Missoula's housing crisis.
“We need way, way more affordable housing and housing that’s actually affordable," Erickson said. "They say ‘affordable’ but $1,200+ a month for rent is still not something somebody can afford."
If she could choose where the shelter would be, Erickson offered the idea of having a shelter in a lesser trafficked area.
“Something that’s not in an existing neighborhood. So, there’s not that feeling of unsafeness right down the road," Erickson concluded.
The City of Missoula will host an open house in advance of the reopening of the shelter on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the shelter at 1919 North Avenue West.