Salvation Army steps up last minute to host cold weather shelter in Missoula

Following a six-weeklong sprint to get city approval and raise $50,000, The Salvation Army in Missoula, Montana, is gearing up to open an overnight warming center for the homeless population.

The organization is anticipating roughly 40 guests a night, who will be seeking shelter from frigid overnight temperatures that could soon crater to single digits.

The facility will be a “damp” overnight shelter, meaning guests won’t have to complete a Breathalyzer test—often a barrier to entry—but they also won’t be able to bring alcohol inside.

While it’s an ambitious undertaking, it wasn’t until October that The Salvation Army turned its attention to the project. The agency that had been operating the cold weather shelter in Missoula announced late in the month that it wouldn’t be running its facility this winter.

“When we heard about that, we knew there was still a great need for this in the community,” said Captain Josh Boyd, Missoula Corps Officer. “So we asked ourselves, ‘Can we make this happen? Can we pull this off so late in the season with the cold weather already upon us?’ We knew it would take a miracle, but here we are.”

After some initial pushback on the project from local officials, Missoula City Council fast-tracked the interim zoning ordinance for the new shelter through April 1, a process that typically takes around three months. At that point, the biggest remaining hurdle was corralling the necessary funds.

With the help of several area groups and GoFundMe campaigns launched by the United Way and local engineering firm DJ&A, The Salvation Army eclipsed its $50,000 goal, the lot of which will be used for staffing.

Several donors, including Sandy Evans, expressed their support of the project on the DJ&A GoFundMe page.

“We decided we would rather donate to this great cause and reduce our holiday spending,” she said. “Everyone should have a warm place to go on a cold night. This is the season of giving.”

According to Boyd, if everything comes through as expected the center may even exceed its goal, at which point funds will be set aside for “tangible assistance” items such as socks and hygiene products.

The Poverello Center, a nearby overnight shelter, is consistently at-capacity with 175 guests a night and forced to turn people away, so the warming center can’t come soon enough.

The Salvation Army is currently hiring four regular and four on-call employees at a rate of $12 an hour. The organization is targeting a Christmas eve opening, though no official date has been set.

“Everything’s coming together,” Boyd said. “We’re really excited about this.”

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