The City Of Missoula Unveils Its Plan To Buy The Sleepy Inn Motel For A “Non-Congregant Shelter” For Homeless Covid Patients

by William Skink

The city of Missoula unveiled a new plan to shelter people without homes amidst this pandemic when it was announced the city would purchase the Sleepy Inn on West Broadway for just over a million dollars.

Critics of the state’s official indifference toward homeless people, critics like myself, should be applauding this move of a municipality stepping up, right? And using TIF money to help some of the most vulnerable in our community is what this funding tool was made for, right?

One problem I have is that over the years of watching the Engen regime I simply don’t trust that the Mayor doesn’t have something else up his sleeve, which he essentially admits to in this Missoula Current article after the word “pivot”.

Engen said the purchase would be made in full using tax increment from within the district. The property was already on the market, offering the city a chance to achieve several pressing goals, including isolated shelter during the pandemic and affordable housing down the road.

“The other moving part here is that, pre-COVID, we had been looking at opportunities for redevelopment, particularly for housing projects, and we identified this property as one of those properties that was ripe for redevelopment,” Engen said.

If approved by MRA’s board this week and the Missoula City Council next week, the purchase would close this month. The city would also acquire the right of way held by the state under the purchase agreement.

“We knew if we were able to aggregate these two properties, we’d have a good piece of land for redevelopment for truly affordable housing, most likely low-income housing,” Engen said. “Our intention is to purchase the property and operate it as a non-congregant shelter for as long as we need to during the pandemic, and then we could pivot and move into a redevelopment opportunity.”

Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it.

The other thing about the Sleepy Inn motel, and almost all the other “cheap” motels in Missoula, is that they can be rather nasty, exploitive businesses, charging their housing-insecure customers anywhere from $200-$300 dollars a week to get bitten by bed bugs and harassed by tweakers.

Another interesting thing about these “cheap” motels in America is that half of them are owned by East Indian families, but take that from me, here’s the opening paragraph from the Smithsonian Magazine:

Stop in at a motel anywhere in the U.S., and you are likely to find an Indian-American family at the helm of it. At least half of America’s motels are owned by Indian-Americans, and 70 percent of these are owned by people from the same region of India—Gujarat, a state on the nation’s northwest coast. Since the 1940s, Indian-Americans have built a sprawling network of motels across the U.S., laying down roots and bringing in their extended families, generation after generation. The contributions of these immigrant entrepreneurs are explored in the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center’s new exhibition, “Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation,” which is now open at the Natural History Museum.

I don’t blame east Indian families for taking money from desperate people who can’t formally rent because of issues like bad credit, criminal history, mental health issues and addiction issues. These families chasing the American dream didn’t create a society that criminalizes poverty while protecting criminal bankers who create economy-killing ponzi schemes knowing their buddies at the Fed will always be there to bail them out, so why blame them for seeing an opportunity and working hard to achieve some degree of material comfort?

But it is ugly and exploitive, at least it was to me as I was begging certain motel managers to not kick out my clients after they spent nearly their entire disability check on “rent”.

I did a lot to form positive relationships with motel managers during my time working at the shelter. When I was doing outreach a lot of the calls that would come in would be from motel managers giving me the chance to help out BEFORE they kicked someone out of a room, and often I was able to mediate and prevent those unofficial evictions.

Motel managers put up with an incredible amount of insane shit because they are daily dealing with our societal failures with mentally ill and addicted people. Warm Springs will literally discharge someone from the state hospital directly to a motel room.

Sometimes Warm Springs would try to discharge people to the Poverello Center, which is a pretty terrible discharge plan if you ask me. I remember the shelter saying no to one person in particular because of her history the last time Warm Springs discharged her. A few days later I got a call from a motel manager about this woman, who immediately stopped taking her meds and started drinking with an old alcoholic in the next room over.

If the city can run a less exploitive “non-congregant shelter” where the Sleepy Inn currently sits, great. That will marginally improve the situation as it stands in Missoula.

But, like I said, I don’t trust Engen for one hot second, so if there’s something else brewing I’m going to do my level best to find out what it is.

If any readers know anything, or would like to drop me a line and tell me how awesome I am, my email is willskink at yahoo dot com.

Thank for reading.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The City Of Missoula Unveils Its Plan To Buy The Sleepy Inn Motel For A “Non-Congregant Shelter” For Homeless Covid Patients

  1. Greg Strandberg says:

    The city was desperate for money before this crisis, and they’re going to be even more desperate when tax revenues fall substantially. That’s why this is such a good move for the city. They can spend $1.1 million for this run-down hotel, and then in a few months they’ll level it and get a favored contractor to put in a bunch of ‘affordable housing’ units.

    I wonder what the sale price or rental price will be for those units. I wonder how much profit the city will make selling them. How many units can they fit in that space…maybe 20 if they stack ’em, 40 even?

    Chances are good the city will make $10 million in profit once they flip this. Most will probably find its way into the MRA’s coffers, not the general fund. I suspect many involved with the project will donate to the mayor’s 2021 relection campaign.

  2. TC says:

    Your instincts are correct. This project has a multitude of red flags for the tax paying public. First, remember no project under the Engen regime has ever come in on budget – not water co., not library, not baseball field, not pools, not Art park, etc.etc. This project wont either – by design. Second they bought this without an appraisal – and agreed to a price that is estimated at over 50% higher than worth. They will then need to outlay money for remediation before its barely usable. Expect this $500 K property to soon cost the City $ 1.5-2.0 million. Also expect WGM to get a large share of that. Its ok though that will all be MRA money. But because this fits Ellen Buchanan’s gentrification vision expect MRA to give even more money to the developer when Covid panic is over. I think its reasonable to assume that the City (MRA) will spend 3 million on this project with no profits ever going to the general fund.
    Finally, as a final red flag, the Covid panic was just a smoke screen. There was already an agreement with another hotel for up to 50 rooms. Therefore this wasn’t a pressing need – was just an opportunity. Classic neo-liberal government – never let a disaster go to waste when you can funnel public funds to your private betters.

    • thank you for the info. I also forgot to mention in the post that another idiotic “study” will be done to determine future use, like they’re doing with the land the old library sat on. those studies usually cost around $25,000 and have recently been done by that Florida consulting firm connected to the dude who turned down the development director job.

  3. TC says:

    Yes – Im very curious about this design firm. So far they have been given the Downtown plan, have worked on a park study, are determining “best use” of library site, doing the Mullan/Flynn design and will now be determining the Broadway hotel use. It is curious how/why this firm from South Florida is determining/dictating so much of Missoula’s future. One would think a firm knowledgable about Missoula’s history, culture, weather, etc might be more appropriate in guiding our path forward.

  4. NBC Montana put a story out on this, and included a link to a letter by the three conservative city council members dated March 15 (typo…April 15?).

    Some red flags to me are:

    The proposal before the city council to purchase the Sleepy Inn “was buried as an address that was buried in Claims that was buried in the Consent Agenda during our historic first-ever virtual City Council meeting.” It seems Engen and his cronies wanted this to pass with as little public knowledge as possible.

    Here’s another one:

    “This hotel was listed sixyears ago for $675,000 dollars. At the time the owner was so desperate to get rid of it that theywere offering owner financing on it. This price is close to half of what the city is now paying forit after 6 years of wear and tear in the middle of an economic depression.”

    Six years ago was 2014…well after the 2008 economic recession. Facebook comments have mentioned the meth remediation work that’ll need to be done, which will probably push the price/maintenace fees up by $500,000…at least.

    Remember, the ‘drug den’ that the daycare worker at the YMCA created in just one room – though it did spread to the rest of the building through the air ducts – resulted in a $474,000 restitution charge.

    Please keep your eye on this story for us. No one else will.

Leave a Reply