MISSOULA — Missoula Mayor John Engen and the Missoula County commissioners are trying to figure out what to do with homeless people camping illegally in town.
Officials say the housing crunch, combined with continuing COVID-19 limitations to homeless shelters are forcing unhoused people into the urban wild.
Missoula officials recently cleared out trash from West Broadway Island after removing people who were camping there illegally.
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It's not the first time Missoula's cleared out homeless camps, and it won't be the last. Now, officials are asking for public input and alternative solutions for where the campers should stay.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” Mayor Engen said Thursday.
Missoula's homeless population is continuing to grow with city and county leaders saying they will soon enforce trespassing laws and stop allowing people to camp illegally.
“We are endeavoring here to make order out of chaos,” noted Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick.
Mayor Engen and the Missoula County commissioners heard recommendations for shelter plans for Missoula's homeless on Thursday.
“Our hope here is to provide people with alternatives. Offer them an alternative place to live that is legal, safe, secure, and then let them know they can no longer camp illegally where they are,” Slotnick said.
The Missoula Office of Emergency Management (OEM) reports it surveyed 21 potential sites to use and has narrowed the list down to three recommendations.
The sites would have different levels of resources, depending on how close the people staying there are to attaining permanent housing.
“There is no single site that is suited to address the needs of the current or expected unhoused population,” noted OEM director Adriane Beck.
The first option would be to use the former Sleepy Inn for temporary transitional housing.
Option two would involve constructing a clean camping spot at the end of Clark Fork Lane.
The last option would be to design a hard-sided outdoor shelter near the Missoula City Cemetary near North Russell Street.
Mayor Engen says he knows future decisions may be controversial.
"We'll do outreach to neighbors, with regard to whatever decisions we settle on, and do our best to mitigate impacts and unintended consequences."
Now is the time to reach out to the city and county with questions and public comment, by emailing solutions@missoulacounty.Us.
The county will direct staff on how to proceed at their July 15 administrative public meeting, and they will allocate any financial resources -- likely using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act -- during the upcoming budget process.
The City of Missoula will take a similar approach during its budgeting process.