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Missoula City Council holds its first vote on designated campsite proposal

A new resolution recommends the adoption of ordinances that would restrict urban camping and pave the way for an authorized campsite in the future
Missoula City Council Homeless 6524
Posted at 12:27 PM, Jun 06, 2024

MISSOULA — The City of Missoula is continuing discussions towards how to manage unhoused people sleeping on city land and public parks.

Mayor Andrea Davis presented a resolution before the Committee as a Whole on Wednesday, June 5, which recommended city council adopt ordinances that would restrict urban camping and pave the way for an authorized campsite in the future.

The resolution was sponsored by Mayor Davis and city council members Amber Sherrill, Mirtha Becerra, Gwen Jones, Mike Nugent and Stacie Anderson.

Davis and Sherrill first presented the resolution during a press conference on Tuesday.

Davis said, both at the press conference and at the committee as a whole meeting, that the resolution was the result of the Urban Camping Work Group, which met five times starting in February.

Eeach member of the Missoula City Council was a part of the working group.

“Its members met five times, five hours at a time, and it resulted in recommendations for council to consider as well as the private sector to contribute to solutions,” Davis said on Tuesday.

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On June 5, 2024, Missoula Mayor Andrea Davis explained her proposed urban camping resolution to the city council and the general public.

After the mayor and her fellow sponsors explained the resolution, council members Daniel Carlino and Kristen Jordan questioned why the rest of the Urban Camping Work Group was not consulted in the writing of the resolution.

“It would have been nice if the working group had a session to look over this resolution and actually weigh in on it,” Carlino said.

Jordan also asked multiple times why Missoulians who are currently experiencing houselessness were not consulted. Brad Carlson — a participant of the Urban Camping Work Group — felt similar sentiments to Jordan and Carlino.

“This resolution pretty much goes against every single thing I recommended,” Carlson said during public comment.

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Missoula City Council member Kristen Jordan felt the unhoused population should have been consulted further when writing the new urban camping resolution.

Still, there were multiple public commenters who praised the City’s effort in finding a solution.

“I did feel like this ordinance, it reflected some of the things that I heard and even said in those meetings, it reflected many things I didn’t hear and say in that meeting, I trust the people who brought this forward that they feel like this is a necessary step right now to buy us time to make better informed decisions,” said Missoula Economic Partnership President Grant Kier who was a participant in the working group.

Kier was referencing the resolution as an “ordinance,” but the document is meant only as a recommendation and has not been voted in or converted into an ordinance at this time.

Sponsors of the resolution said the documents outline a compromise and a balance between compassion for the unhoused and understanding for residents and business owners.

“We have to try to do the most good for the most amount of people, and that is hard and it is not perfect, and none of us up here will attest to that, but I do think that this is some solutions that tries to balance the needs for everyone who calls Missoula home,” council member Stacie Anderson said.

While the long-term goal of the resolution is to create an authorized campsite with security and waste management systems, Mayor Davis said the full establishment of such a site could take years.

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Mirtha Becerra, a sponsor of the urban camping resolution, feels the solution is not perfect but a step towards reaching a common goal.

In the meantime, the proposed resolution outlines restrictions on urban camping down to the foot.

A "buffer zone" is written to be designated by proximity to other buildings or facilities. For example, the resolution states no one can camp within 100 feet of a commercial business, 50 feet of waterways and 300 feet of schools.

The resolution does not describe areas that will allow camping, which sparked frustration from some members of the public.

“It also includes instructions on camping within buffer zones that make it really unclear where folks can actually sleep, and make no commitments or plans on how it will be communicated to people where they can and can not go,” Jana Richter, who works with the North Missoula Community Development Corporation, said during public comment.

Other poeple, including representatives from the Missoula Chamber of Commerce and the Missoula Midtown Association, were worried the buffer zone would not protect businesses and tourists enough.

“The businesses of Missoula are looking for a swift resolution of action to help reduce the challenges of unhoused to include property crime… camping without regard to buffer zones in our business districts as well as along the river,” Missoula Chamber of Commerce President Mark Losh said. “The buffer zone along the river that you have listed as 50 feet, 50 feet is not very far.”

Another restriction listed in the proposed resolution is a time frame of 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. when camping is allowed. According to the resolution’s sponsors, this is meant to avoid conflict between summer recreators and unhoused Missoulians sleeping in parks.

The time restriction would mean no one can set up a permanent campsite or shelter and must move their belongings during the day.

“I fear that it will destabilize people, people will lose belongings and honestly if you pack everything up, where are they going to go with all of their belongings?” one public commenter asked the council. “People may end up at places like the library or even businesses where they have all of their belongings with them, which I think will only push people into more conflict with the larger community.”

Part of the resolution is the immediate installation of secure lockers for houseless people who need to protect their belongings.

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The urban camping resolution will be voted upon once again by the Missoula City Council on June 10, 2024.

The meeting began at 3:30 p.m. and ended at 6 p.m. even though there were many online participants who wished to make public comment.

Normally, the meeting would run long to accommodate all of the people who wished to speak, but the Historic Preservation Committee needed the council room at 6 p.m.

Council member Sandra Vaseka called a vote on the resolution at 4:38 p.m. which was followed by public comment.

At 6:55 p.m. Amber Sherill asked the council to vote on whether they were ready to make Vaseka’s vote to bring the resolution to Monday night’s city council meeting.

Carlino and Jordan wanted further discussion and public comment before bringing the resolution to Monday night, but were outvoted 7-to-5.

Jordan then left the room visibly upset and refused to stay for the final vote, calling out expletives as she left.

The meeting ended with council members Eric Melson, Sierra Farmer, Mirtha Becerra, Gwen Jones, Amber Sherill, Mike Nugent, Stacie Anderson, Bob Campbell, and Sandra Vasecka voting yes to bring the resolution to Monday. Carlino voted no and Jennifer Savage abstained from voting. Jordan was counted as absent for the vote.

The resolution will be further discussed on Monday night, when council members will have the opportunity to make amendments and ask further questions.