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Questions raised about Missoula Temporary Safe Outdoor Space

Missoula Temporary Safe Outdoor Space
Posted at 4:58 PM, Dec 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-16 18:58:34-05

MISSOULA — Officials are working to relocate homeless Missoulians away from the Reserve Street encampment.

Earlier this year, Missoula enacted an emergency order, streamlining the process to build a new temporary outdoor location.

Officials are now trying to clear up any confusion and misinformation that's circling the community.

"There's no violent or sexual offenders there, noted Hope Rescue Mission executive director Jim Hicks.

The Temporary Safe Outdoor Space (TSOS) off US Highway 93 is now home to about 15 people.

"We know you are angry and frustrated. We share that,” United Way of Missoula County CEO Susan Hay Patrick said.

What was made clear during a Wednesday public meeting was that there are still plenty of unanswered questions.

"Who are my new neighbors?" one person asked.

"Do you guys not have any concerns for the businesses in the area?" another participant said.

Criticism was also voiced that the public had no chance for comment before the project happened.

"I live directly behind the encampment, with my husband, and our three small children -- that are playing in the field there behind them -- and we had no idea about the potential for the encampment before we saw the construction happening,” Grace Roster said.

Missoula County officials clarified they were able to skip regular flood plain and zoning meetings, which would have had public comment periods, due to the pandemic.

"This isn't a normal situation. We've heard the words temporary used. It's in response to COVID. It's being managed in accordance with our emergency response,” Missoula County Chief Planning Officer Chet Crowser explained.

The Hope Rescue Mission, the United Way of Missoula County, and Missoula's COVID-19 Joint Information Command Center say they are working to make the location safe.

They say the site is safe to walk to, safe for the winter with zero degree sleeping bags -- and safe for COVID-19.

Officials say the goal is to get these people into permanent housing but acknowledge that will take work.

"Everybody in Missoula knows we have a housing crisis in our community,” Hay Patrick said.

Organizers say that for now, they're hoping the resources at the TSOS will give people a start.

"Now there's an opportunity to work with them one-on-one, have case management on-site, where they're able to meet their needs where they're at," said April Seat with Hope Rescue Mission.

The TSOS plans to operate through the end of March, and Hope Rescue Mission is still working to coordinate an exit strategy.

A meeting has been set for Thursday, Dec. 17 to discuss the zoning issues in relation to the encampment.