Homeless shelters rouse the same sort of NIMBYism associated with landfills and power plants. Almost all agree they're needed, but few want to bear the burdens they bring.
In Missoula, evidence of the challenges inherent to helping the homeless hit the newspapers all the time. The most recent example occurred Monday, when a client at Missoula's Poverello Center, the state's largest homeless shelter, allegedly stabbed a staff member. The incident certainly isn't typical, but it is in line with the all too common violence transients have committed—or been the victims of—in recent months.
Such challenges are why downtown's First Baptist Church decided to no longer house the Salcido Center, a daytime drop-in facility run by the Pov. The church informed the organization a few weeks ago that it's terminating the lease at the end of the year. The center serves the chronic homeless and those with mental illnesses and/or chemical dependencies—in other words, the people in most need.
Pastor Curtis Privette says the church made the decision because it has been "a little overwhelmed" since the Salcido Center opened in 2008.
"Certainly serving downtown Missoula's poorest is part of our mission," Privette says, "but it's not our only mission. It's the Poverello Center's only mission, but it's not our only mission. And so after two years of it we feel like doing it for another year would distract us from other things."
Privette says the arrangement—the Pov pays about $2,500 a month to use the church's basement—was intended to be a short-term solution.
Now the Pov, already maxed out at its primary location on Ryman Street, finds itself searching for a new space to house the 45 people served every day at the Salcido Center.
"We're hoping that other churches or other folks who have places to rent in the urban core will come forward to allow us to move those 45 guys come January 1," says Ellie Hill, the Poverello Center's executive director. "But we're thinking that that's probably pretty unlikely.
"It's now a community decision how we want this to be handled," she continues. "The Poverello Center did not create poverty and homelessness in the city of Missoula, nor are we the lone organization that can provide a solution."
Unfortunately, the same incidents Hill says show the need for more services for the homeless—like Monday's stabbing—are the ones that make most anyone reluctant to provide them.