Missoulian: Poverello Center buys nearby motel for $1.57M to shelter houseless veterans

by David Erickson

Anew home for houseless military veterans in Missoula is in the works.

The Poverello Center, the largest homeless shelter in Montana, has purchased the 17-room Clark Fork Inn property at 1010 W. Broadway, just down the street from the Poverello’s headquarters.

“On Dec. 8, the Poverello Center entered into a contract to purchase the Clark Fork Inn for our Housing Montana Heroes program,” said Jill Bonny, the Pov’s executive director. “That is our transitional housing program for veterans experiencing houselessness.”

That program has been located on the second floor of the Poverello Center since 2015.

“We serve around 35 veterans every year in that program,” Bonny said. “We are excited about the opportunity to expand our services. This new space will help transform lives and provide more veterans with safe housing through the COVID pandemic and beyond.”

The Poverello Center has room on the second floor for 20 veterans in shared rooms, and the Clark Fork Inn has 17 rooms.

“We’ll be working over the next 18 months to renovate the current building and also add three additional units,” Bonny said. “We look forward to releasing more details as well as finalizing a timeline.”

For many years, the Clark Fork Inn has been used as long-term apartment housing by residents of Missoula and has almost no vacancy. Bonny said the Pov is committed to making sure all the current residents are relocated into housing.

“Because we are using federal dollars, we are required by federal law to have a robust relocation protocol as well as making sure rental assistance is available to all tenants,” she said. “We have been in communication with them.”

The hotel was listed on the Multiple Listing Service and could have been bought by a private developer. The Pov bought the property for $1.57 million.

“The Pov is the best purchaser because our staff is committed to making sure the current residents find stable housing,” Bonny said. She was in charge of veterans services at the Pov for many years before becoming executive director.

The Poverello Center obtained a $1 million capital grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for the project. The city also committed $834,000 from its federal American Rescue Plan Act allocation to help the Pov buy the building, and Missoula County pitched in a similar amount.

“This really was made possible by the national (Department of Veterans Affairs’) effort to shift houseless veterans services from congregate (group) shelters to wanting them to have apartment-style or at least single-occupancy housing,” Bonny said. “When we heard that this was a possibility, we decided to apply and we were excited when we received it.”

A bonus to the project is that it will create extra room in the Pov, which has had to reduce capacity during the pandemic for safety reasons and is often full.

“This will free up space in the current location at our main shelter, so we’re hoping we can serve more clients that way,” Bonny said. “That’s another advantage.”

Sen. Jon Tester, chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Veterans’ Affairs Committee, hailed the purchase in an email to the Missoulian.

“The Poverello Center does incredible work helping Montana veterans and their families find reliable housing across the state, and it’s why I’m proud to have led the effort in Congress to cut red tape on funding to help them further their mission here in Missoula,” Tester said. “This new space will help transform many lives in the area – providing more veterans with a safe place to call home during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”

Montana James, the deputy director of the city’s community development division, said Mayor John Engen and the city council approved the allocation of federal funding to the project last year as part of the fiscal year 2022 budgeting process.

“We don’t have a role in that other than to make sure the project is compliant with the regulations that come with our funding,” James said.

James confirmed that there is a stipulation with the federal funding that requires the Pov to work with the existing residents to make sure they can find comparable housing.

“The Pov and other community organizations submitted letters requesting funds, and those get kind of categorized within departments where it makes sense,” James said. “The city and county have invested heavily in expanding resources and shelter options to unhoused residents over the last year, and the city was really interested in committing ARPA funds to this project.”

James said the project fits with the city’s wider goal of reducing houselessness.

“We know our unhoused residents and residents without stable housing are some of the hardest-hit because of the pandemic, and this supports the larger goal we have in providing resources to support folks who need shelter and support,” James said.