Missoula's efforts to help the homeless will take a somewhat different tack this coming winter, as the city council opts to focus on the Johnson Street Emergency Shelter, and pull its involvement in an outdoor camp that's provided some outdoor shelter the past couple of years. 

This week, the city council debated funding the Johnson Street Emergency Shelter and stepping away from the Authorized Camp Site, or ACS. The idea was first started because of concerns about safety during the initial part of the pandemic. 

But this week, the council opted to focus support on the Johnson Street facility. 

Eran Pehan, City of Missoula's Director of Community Planning and Developed explained staffing the ACS, as well as the Emergency Shelter, had been problematic.

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"We were unable to fill all of our authorized campsite coordinator positions. We were able to hire 2 individuals," Pehan told council members. "We needed three to four and after several rounds of recruitment, we just could not fill those positions and those were at wages and city benefits that I believe were higher than what our partners are paying, And so we do believe that would create competition and filling those essential positions for emergency winter shelter." 

Some council members want city to use more of $900,000 for pandemic relief

With some council members expressing concerns about closing the outdoor camp, Pehan expressed confidence the city and its partners will have enough capacity this winter.

"I don't believe that at our regular winter shelter at ACS that transitioning residents who preferred to go and agree to go to the emergency winter shelter would create a situation where they are overcapacity. We've looked at those numbers, we've spoken with the Poverello Center and others, and if this winter season looks like the last, I don't think we'll be in that situation."

Some members of the council feel the council should use more of its reserve of federal pandemic relief dollars to fund expanded operations for the homeless.  

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