MISSOULA, Mont. — Missoula’s Sleepy Inn has been sitting empty since June 30 after Gov. Greg Gianforte rescinded the state emergency declaration for COVID-19, causing the county to lose FEMA money for noncongregate shelters.
That’s posing challenges for Missoula’s homeless shelters.
“Right now, there is nowhere for people to quarantine and isolate,” said Jill Bonny, executive director at the Poverello Center. “We are able to put them in touch with the health department’s social worker, but we don't have an option for them to stay. Unfortunately, we are hearing daily about people quarantined in tents and on the street.”
While it was in operation, the Poverello Center would move a positive COVID-19 case to the Sleepy Inn. Without FEMA dollars, there’s no money to operate the inn.
After June 30, the county handed the keys back to the city. In the process, they found out there’s also a plumbing issue at the Sleepy Inn, but it hasn’t been investigated or fixed. It won’t be until the city decides what to do with the property.
The city says they purchased the Sleepy Inn with long-term goals of redevelopment post-COVID. With a recent surge in cases, the Sleepy Inn could be one of a few options if an isolation and quarantine facility is needed again, but it’s up to the health department to say another shelter is necessary.
Without FEMA, the city would have to pay for it.
City spokeswoman Ginny Merriam tells NBC Montana it cost $35,000 to $50,000 per month to operate the Sleepy Inn before it closed, all of which was paid for by FEMA. There’s no cost right now while it’s closed.
Now the Poverello Center is taking extra precautions to limit spread, including requiring masks, sanitation and closing throughout the day to limit the number of people inside.
“There’s concern with the uptick in COVID-19 that we’re going to continue to see people who have nowhere to go,” said Bonny.
The Poverello Center caps out at 88 guests per night to comply with CDC guidelines. At this time of year, they would usually shelter around 150. They’re turning down up to 10 guests per night.