Lowell parents peeved

Parents of children who attend Missoula's Lowell Elementary are angry that they've been excluded from discussions about the Poverello Center's plans to relocate its homeless center three blocks from the Westside school. "If they want to be part of this community, it should have been handled much differently," says Allison McKnight, president of the Lowell Elementary Parent Teacher Association.

The Pov is moving forward with plans to replace its ramshackle Ryman Street digs with a new homeless shelter at 1112 West Broadway. McKnight says that for parents, a significant concern stems from the fact that, according to the statewide Department of Justice registry, 15 violent or sexual offenders list the Poverello Center as home. "How can the people involved in this decision not consider these issues?" she asks. "And if it was considered, why did no one reach out to the neighborhood to address possible concerns?"

Missoula Mayor John Engen is working closely with the Poverello Center which aims to close its relocation deal in July. Engen says the move is still in the very early stages; he didn't roll out the plan sooner because he didn't want to publicly hash out a project that might not fly. "It made no sense to me to reach out to a broad neighborhood without having some idea of whether we could use the site," he says.

Engen says once there's a new Pov design to be scrutinized, he'll host a neighborhood meeting to work out concerns.

Poverello Board President Kate Gadbow says that because a new facility will have more room to house people, it will help contain them, too, ideally keeping them from spilling out onto the streets, as is now frequently the case. "We are not trying to move problems," she says. "We are trying to solve them."

There's an inflated perception that the Pov is a hotbed of criminal activity, Gadbow adds. That's in part because just about anyone can use the shelter's address to register as a violent offender. Gadbow points to findings included in Missoula's homeless needs assessment, released last winter, when she asserts that the Pov's clientele is largely law-abiding.

"There's a conflation between the transients who are harassing people on Higgins and the Poverello in peoples' minds," Gadbow adds. "It's not the case, not for 80 to 90 percent (of Pov clients)."

McKnight says neighborhood residents might be more welcoming of a new Pov on West Broadway if they were included earlier in the discussions. "We just want to be heard."

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