Leaders of the Salvation Army in Missoula on Monday emphasized that the overnight shelter they’ve pledged to open for the city’s homeless population will welcome all who come through the door.
The assurances came amid criticism on social media from local residents who believe the organization carries a Christian bias and discriminates against members of the LGBTQ community.
Not true, came the reply from Capt. Ryan Boyd, who manages the Salvation Army’s facility on Russell Street with her husband, Josh.
“The Salvation Army is open and inclusive to all people,” Boyd said in a written message.
“Anyone who comes through our doors will receive help based on their need and our capacity to assist,” she said.
Nationally, the organization serves about 30 million Americans from a variety of backgrounds each year, she said. “We do not pick and choose who we serve based on religion, sexual orientation, gender identification, immigration status, or any other factor.”
In Missoula County, the Salvation Army already serves 8,000-plus residents a year who need help in a variety of ways. This winter, it has joined a number of social service agencies and the Missoula City Council to offer overnight shelter.
The Poverello Center recently enacted a nightly cap of 175 on the number of people who can sleep there, citing overcrowding and public safety. Once that cap is reached, any others who come seeking shelter from the cold are turned away.
On Friday, the City Council approved a temporary rezoning that allows the Salvation Army to house homeless residents overnight this winter.
The only glitch: Before the shelter can open, the Salvation Army must raise $50,000 in funding to pay the staff. The group had $25,000 by Friday.
Following the meeting, United Way of Missoula County launched a $10,000 fundraising campaign called Warm for the Holidays “to support our friends at the Salvation Army.”
“A gift of any amount will support this temporary center while our community continues to work, through Reaching Home: Missoula’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness, on appropriate permanent housing solutions,” the United Way said in announcing the effort via Facebook. “Please share the warmth of the holiday season by helping us raise $10,000 to make sure that folks do not suffer, or risk dying, on our cold streets this winter.”
Faced with questions about the Salvation Army’s inclusivity, United Way also posted Boyd’s statement and added its assurances that the group has been welcoming of all comers.
In an email to Missoula City Councilwoman Julie Armstrong, Boyd added more:
“Any instance of discrimination is in direct opposition to our core beliefs and is against all of our policies. The Salvation Army embraces employees of many different faiths and orientations and abides by all applicable anti-discrimination laws in its hiring. The idea that we would preclude any person in need of a warm place to sleep because of their religion or orientation is completely false. Anyone who is in need of a place to sleep during the winter months would be welcome in our shelter.”
“This promise to serve goes to the core of our beliefs as laid out in our organizational Mission Statement: ‘The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.’ “
In Missoula, Boyd said, “we are proud to be part of the solution” to the urgent need for warm, safe wintertime shelter.
Earlier, Josh Boyd reiterated that the $50,000 must be in hand before the Salvation Army’s shelter can open, heightening the urgency as Missoula’s temperatures plummet and snow begins to accumulate.
Donations to help reach that goal can be made either through the United Way of Missoula County or via the Salvation Army of Missoula.
To donate via the United Way, follow this link online and scroll down to select Warm for the Holidays: www.MissoulaUnitedWay.org/donate and scroll down to select Warm for the Holidays .
To donate directly to the Salvation Army, contact Ryan or Josh Boyd at 355 S. Russell St., telephone 549-0710, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Boyd emphasized that checks must designate that the giving is for the winter overnight shelter.