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Mayor Engen discusses removal of “tent city”

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Posted at 9:09 AM, Sep 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-30 11:23:18-04

MISSOULA — The "tent city" near Missoula's Poverello Center was cleared out Tuesday by law enforcement for health concerns.

We told you earlier this week about what the city and other stakeholders are saying about it. Mayor John Engen says the approach was necessary.

“We don't want folks to camp illegally, but they don't have very many options,” the mayor told MTN News."

There are still signs of about a dozen tents that were stood up near cedar street just days ago.

missoula homeless

“There was kind of a growing health emergency that was growing there because of urban camping,” explained Poverello Center Director of Development and Advocacy Jesse Jaeger.

Information from a press release says conditions in the so-called tent city were unsanitary, citing needles, and human waste accumulation.

"One of the challenges again will be, folks have to go somewhere,” Mayor Engen said.

"We worked really closely with our partners in the city and the county to figure out a humane way to address that issue,” noted Jaeger.

poverello center encampment

Jaeger says many of the people that were camping have been placed in temporary housing.

“We were able to get a couple people referred to the YWCA, a couple people were able to get access to housing vouchers."

This isn't the first time the city has stepped in to clear an illegal encampment, and it likely won't be the last.

Mayor Engen told MTN News the city plans to keep taking a hands-on approach, saying, once again, that doing nothing in the face of homelessness is not an option.

john engen

"We do our best to meet the needs of folks who are really struggling,” Engen said. “There's a reason they're on the street right"

The Poverello Center, city, and county are working together on how to address homelessness long term but Jaeger says the organization's role is not policy but keeping people alive.

“That is always our goal at the Poverello Center, especially with those that are most vulnerable. At the same time, we need to continue to work towards those longer-term solutions we need more housing, we need more mental health supports, we need more substance abuse treatment facilities in our community to really get at the root causes of these issues." - Poverello Center Director of Development and Advocacy Jesse Jaeger.

Mayor Engen agrees that there are many reasons people might end up on Missoula's streets.

"I think some folks end up here because services are available, but I also think if we didn't have those services available to our residents, we'd be in a much worse place than we're in today."

The Poverello Center is working with the city for plans for an emergency winter shelter that they hope to release before the weather gets too much colder.