MISSOULA, Mont. - After years of planning, the state's largest homeless shelter, Missoula's Poverello Center, finally broke ground at its new location Wednesday afternoon and center coordinators tell us it's been a long road.
In 2009 coordinators started looking for a larger facility.
November 2011 Poverello board members announced they entered into a contract to buy the old 'Trails End Bar,' on West Broadway.
Some neighborhood residents fought back in 2012 saying the new facility is too close to Lowell Elementary School but after several months of public meetings the new location was set.
In June of this year the old 'Trails End Bar' was demolished.
Center coordinators tell us the current Poverello Center is over 100 years old and is too small to accommodate services. They say the new 20,000 square foot facility will better meet the community's needs.
Wednesday afternoon NBC Montana attended the groundbreaking of the new center on West Broadway.
Eran Fowler, director of the Poverello Center, tells us building the new facility is a dream come true. She says it will offer double the amount of health care services for the roughly 300 homeless people who utilize the shelter every day.
"We'll have classroom spaces for GED classes, vocational training and support and we'll also have a myriad of supportive services," says Fowler.
Access to the internet, phones and postal services will be available for people looking for employment or permanent housing.
Fowler says the new facility will be able to sleep up to 110 people a night -- that's 42 more people who will have a warm place to sleep at night.
"Last night we slept 110 people," says Fowler. "That's over 40 people who sleep on the ground every night."
Every year the shelter serves over 1,600 different homeless people.
Yearly the Poverello Center serves 135,000 meals -- that's 11,000 meals a month or 380 meals a day.
Some residents in the neighborhood are critical of the Poverello's new location saying they are concerned because the site is a few blocks away from Lowell Elementary School.
Poverello board member Rick Wishcamper tells us the move is controversial, but he's proud of the community for helping to get this new facility off the ground.
"The new facility will have hospice services and we'll be able to provide services to our most vulnerable friends and neighbors with dignity," says Wishcamper. "It makes me feel lucky to live here."
"When you serve people with dignity and respect they rise to the occasion," says Fowler. "It provides them some motivation and some hope that things can get better."
The new facility is expected to be open by the end of 2014.
The $5 million project is funded through a number of different grants and private donations.
Poverello organizers say they are still short $300,000 for costs and are still in need of donations; they say all other funding is secured, so the center can open debt-free.