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Missoula Reopening Motel To COVID-Positive Homeless People

Sign for the Sleepy Inn in Missoula, MT, September 14, 2021.
Josh Burnham
Montana Public Radio
Sign for the Sleepy Inn in Missoula, MT, September 14, 2021.

Montana’s largest homeless shelter in Missoula has experienced outbreaks of COVID-19 cases amid a resurgence of the virus. Local officials say a motel owned by the city to quarantine people without homes could open as soon as this week.

Director of Development and Advocacy at the Poverello Center Jesse Jaeger says the shelter has dealt with outbreaks of the disease and turned people who are COVID positive away.

“Quarantine and isolation is critical to stopping the spread of COVID-19, but when you don’t have a home it’s really hard to do that,” he says.

He says the number of people infected with COVID who use the shelter changes daily. Recently, Jaeger says, there were 10 people infected and up to three times that were considered close contacts.

Jaeger says state law prevents the center from requiring people who use the shelter to be vaccinated.

Missoula’s Office of Emergency Management Director Adriane Beck says the ability to isolate a person infected with the disease is important to stop it from spreading.

“For individuals that don’t have a home, they really have no opportunity to do that and no ability to access services, such as the Poverello Center, if they are known COVID-positive," she says.

The city bought the Sleepy Inn Motel during the early days of the pandemic in 2020. The county leased and ran the former motel with Federal Emergency Management Agency money to quarantine and isolate people without homes. This June, when Gov. Greg Gianforte lifted the state’s emergency declaration, that FEMA money went away, and local officials decided to stop the operation.

Now, Beck says, the city and county will likely tap money received from federal pandemic aid passed by Congress to pay for staff to run the former motel. She says it’s estimated to cost up to $40,000 a month to run it.

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