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More than 300 turn out for meeting on Poverello Center relocation
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More than 300 turn out for meeting on Poverello Center relocation

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Wherever the Poverello Center lands, it will be at the intersection of the needs of the shelter and the wants of the people.

A crowded community room at St. Patrick Hospital began the process Wednesday evening of finding a new home for the Poverello Center, which is searching for a dwelling as a $500,000 deadline looms.

More than 300 people packed the room as the local chapter of a conflict-resolution group the National Coalition Building Institute attempted to begin triangulating the concerns of neighbors, businesses, social workers, Pov employees, and former and current clients.

"We won't get anything fixed tonight," said Mayor John Engen, who kicked off the dialogue after blaming himself for not holding such a meeting earlier. "But now we take the next step and begin the next process."

There were no answers. But there were constraints about where an answer may land.

The Pov has to land within an area where zoning laws allow, and secure land that is affordable enough for a new home. The shelter suffers from poor plumbing in a faltering house on a small plot of land on Ryman Street downtown. The Pov is also hoping to find or build a home with 20,000 square feet, 7,000 more than its current residence.

To secure a $500,000 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs grant, the shelter must find the location of a new home by October.

The NCBI, known for its anti-bullying work in Missoula's schools, sequestered sections of Wednesday's audience into categories called "stakeholders," from neighbors of the current shelter to businesses owners to service providers and government workers.

Despite the Poverello's efforts to track sexual offenders, "there are 10 offenders there right now" and 85 more within a five-square-block of Lowell School, said one parent, answering a question that each group answered on sheets later shared with the audience. "And that's just too many for this neighbor."

"I want to take my garbage out without being afraid," said another.

Another man said he didn't exactly understand the clientele the Pov serves before the meeting.

"It was helpful," he said, "to hear the frustration of so many veterans who use those services."

One of the stakeholder groups was devoted to neighbors who support the Poverello Center.

After 20 minutes of brainstorming, the group reported that it wants better access to public transportation for the homeless, and wants to ensure that the new home not be "hidden behind a fence in an industrial area," said the group's spokeswoman.

Another group, made up of those who object to the Poverello Center's original proposal to move to the site of the Trail's End bar, said that location ignored the reality of the neighborhood and the already large number of sexual offenders who live in the area.

Nobody in the neighborhood is afraid of the homeless or the poor, said a spokesman for that group, but there are a lot of children in that area.

"Our population is very vulnerable," he said. "And we have a lot of at-risk people there. We've been called NIMBYs who are afraid of the poor. If we were afraid of the poor, we wouldn't be living there right now."

Some business owners, placed into their own category as being "opposed" to the Poverello Center, voiced their objections.

"We object to that," said the spokeswoman for the group. "We object to that name."

Businesses want the homeless sheltered and taken care of, but that shouldn't affect businesses' ability to function.

"It's necessary for us to keep our doors open and we have to deal with that," she said.

The results of the meeting will be forwarded to a work group, which will then use the information to try to find a suitable site for the Pov.

After that, another community meeting will be held, probably within a month.

Reach reporter Jamie Kelly at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

 

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