As winter takes a turn for the frigid, local transit agencies are helping keep the homeless warm.
Mountain Line’s buses and transit center, and the Associated Students of the University of Montana’s UDASH bus, are being enlisted to support the Salvation Army warming shelter on Russell Street.
The Salvation Army began offering this service at the end of last winter, and continued this winter after being granted a conditional-use permit by the city.
A city press release explained that, while the Salvation Army and the Poverello Center together have been able to assist all individuals seeking shelter, the former agency’s regular evening programming meant that it couldn’t begin providing shelter until 10 p.m.
On Wednesday, with nighttime temperatures predicted to reach the single digits and lower, local organizations developed a solution. Mountain Line will open its transfer center on Ryman and Pine streets until 10 p.m., and use its buses to shuttle clients to the Salvation Army. Missoula Police Department officers will watch the facility, and UDASH will provide services on weekends.
At a joint city-county meeting on Thursday, Missoula Mayor John Engen said the program is “nascent.”
“There may be issues to deal with yet — unforeseen consequences — but at least we don’t have people on the street from 5 to 10.”
The press release said services would continue through the cold spell, predicting it would last about two weeks. City Council President Bryan von Lossberg said Thursday that the groups involved are still determining weekend hours; the transit center is typically closed on Sundays.
Bill Pfeiffer, Mountain Line's community outreach coordinator, said that the cost to the agency will likely not be significant, and that it's working with community and faith groups to staff the facility during these hours and reduce the staffing burden.
Eve Byron contributed reporting to this article.