Just as the Poverello Center was poised to reopen its basement dorm Friday evening, the kitchen staff noticed sewage coming up from the floor drain Friday morning.
The seepage that caused the homeless shelter about $150,000 in damages on May 8 recurred about 8 a.m. Friday, flooding the basement men’s dorm and obliterating all the work that had been completed there.
Damage to the main floor kitchen wasn’t as extensive this time, according to Jesse Jaeger, the Poverello’s director of development and advocacy, but it was temporarily closed Friday.
“Frankly, parts of the kitchen weren’t repaired yet and had been roped off. We also put in procedures to make sure if something happened we could act fast. … Staff responded quickly so we could mitigate the damage in the kitchen but unfortunately not in the men’s dorm,” Jaeger said.
“We are devastated, absolutely devastated, right now and really committed to trying to do what we can. The impact on our clients, who are living in crisis already — because being homeless is a crisis — and to lose your safety net is really a big challenge for them. And staff is feeling the stress of that.”
Eight weeks ago, clients staying at the Poverello Center had a rude awakening after a clog in a kitchen drain sent sewage seeping into the basement ceiling and men’s dormitory. The Pov was forced to close the kitchen and remove all of the food, including staples, and had to shutter the basement dorm.
The Pov was able to reopen the kitchen after about a week, but lost 96 basement sleeping spaces. The Salvation Army opened its doors for about 50 overnight guests, and the Poverello Center got “creative” with its main floor space for other clients to sleep.
This time, they’ll be able to use some of the basement space at least temporarily for sleeping, so all of the clients will be able to stay at the Poverello Center for the weekend. But they’ll have to come up with alternative arrangements again when the drywall is removed and replaced.
“We will send out updates about the status of the dorms as they become available,” Executive Director Amy Allison Thompson wrote in a press release.
She noted they have been working closely with building and plumbing experts to see if there was a grease buildup in the kitchen or other areas, and how to avoid a recurrence. Allison Thompson has said that between the showers, the laundry and the soup kitchen serving 500 to 600 meals a day, theirs is probably the hardest working building in Missoula.
"It is clear that our initial investigation did not identify all the issues our plumbing system is facing," Allison Thompson wrote. "We are again working with experts in the field to continue to find out what has happened and to have a more comprehensive plan for fixing this problem."
Jaeger said they're not sure of the cost of the new damage, or how the shelter will pay for the repairs. The last time their insurance only covered $30,000, but after $10,000 in donations each from the United Way of Missoula, the Missoula Federal Credit Union and First Interstate Bank, as well as $8,000 from the Missoula County’s Community Assistance Fund and a myriad of individuals and public and private parties, they covered the bulk of the costs.
The Missoula Food Bank donated some ready-to-eat meals that the shelter will serve to clients through the weekend. They’ll also be able to use some of the basement space at least temporarily for sleeping, until the drywall is removed and replaced once again, Jaeger said.
Allison Thompson noted that they are deeply grateful to the Missoula community for rallying around the Poverello Center during the past few weeks.
“We are especially grateful to our donors, volunteers, and neighbors who have cared for us and made sure we had the resources we needed to recover,” she said in a statement. “We will continue to need that support.”