MISSOULA — We've been following the growing homeless population here in Missoula for months now.
Officials say there are many barriers to those living in the Reserve Street encampment.
The Temporary Safe Outdoor Space has now been home to about 20 homeless Missoulians for about two months.
Officials say it's going well, and the resources on-site -- including septic and waste management – make the location a better alternative to illegal encampments.
One of Missoula’s busiest roadways is home to one of the community’s biggest issues. For all of us it’s been a cycle,” said Kevin Davis.
Last April, tents lined the Clark Fork River, and “the trash has accumulated,” Davis noted.
Efforts are underway to relocate and house the homeless population on the north side of town but 20 some people are still living under the Reserve Street Bridge.
Some say the homeless camp brings trouble, “frustration in the community,” Davis said.
Once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, county leaders and advocates got together to think of solutions.
“It also reduced the capacity of our shelters, and congregate housing, and that whole support system,” said Missoula County Commissioner Juanita Vero.
That sent more homeless people outside, "what the pandemic has shown nationwide, worldwide, is how fragile a person’s existence and security is,” Vero added.
With colder weather approaching, officials grew concerned, according to Vero. “We spent the spring and summer trying to figure out what to do.”
But what about the other side of town? Well, that’s where private land donated by Spencer Properties, LLC to Hope Rescue Mission for just $1 per year came in.
We asked them, why would you do that? While they didn’t want to go on camera, they did tell MTN News that they’ve been aware of the growing concerns at the encampment on Reserve Street and wanted to offer their resources.
They say they hope this temporary space, will offer a safer, cleaner alternative for the people living here.
“The guests here, they are excited to see for the first time that they are actually safe. That when they leave here, they can come back for their things. That when they come back to their things, that when they go to sleep at night -- they don’t have to worry about things that they once did,” Hope Rescue Mission Director of Outreach April Seat said.
The Hope Rescue Mission says the idea has been a success.
“There’s comments of this is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. And they’re still living in a tent, in the area that they are -- and it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to them because of the relational experiences that we’re having,” Seat told MTN News.
The location isn’t permanent and not everyone is happy.
"I'm against the project in whole, on principle,” one person said,
"What is the exit strategy? Where are these people going to go after this is over?" Another added.
What does that mean moving forward? Missoula County officials say they might consider an option like this again -- under the right circumstances.
“We now have proof that reaching out to people with these kinds of wrap-around services, actually moves people forward. And we should continue doing this, but we don’t know where, or in what form,” Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick said.
“It just highlights how important it is for people to be successful to have those connections,” Vero added.
So, is it possible one of Missoula’s biggest issues, on one of the city’s busiest streets found a solution, during one of our most trying times?
“Let’s make it a source of pride, and something that our community can really be proud of,” Davis concluded.