MISSOULA — If you've driven down Reserve Street in Missoula recently, you may have noticed some construction taking place. But it's not road construction...
The Montana Department of Transportation is installing a fence around its property near the Reserve Street Bridge. It's another step officials are taking to address homelessness in the city.
"Give the ones that need the help, the hand up. If you don't want the hand up, we're going to have to figure out a way to help you up and become a contributing member of society," Missoula resident Lonnie Stevens said. "We all have to live here, and it shouldn't be a difficult situation to deal with every day to go to work."
But Stevens -- an employee at Daily's Premium Meats -- says dealing with safety concerns is almost a daily occurrence.
"We've dealt with transients under the influence of alcohol, narcotics, passed out in our parking lot, confronting our employees...trash, litter, hypodermic needles, you name it, we've seen it."
Just last Friday, Stevens and another employee were shot at. He says he doesn't know why. Two men, Timothy Clark, and David Alexander were taken into custody and have each been charged with one felony count of assault with a weapon.
"People need to understand just how hard it is to deal with, what they bring, the aftermath," Stevens said.
Daily's owns 17 acres on an island on the Clark Fork River, and a chunk of property surrounding their building.
"Everybody that has been on our property that is not an employee, or a contracted driver, has been removed and trespassed," said Stevens.
But he said people return," some of them are back, I don't know if they're the same ones, but it seems like one moves out, one moves in."
The Montana Department of Transportation (MDT), which owns a portion of the land right below the bridge, hopes installing fencing will help keep out trespassers in the future.
"Our job as MDT is to provide infrastructure and protect the infrastructure we have in place, and that's the reason for the fence," said MDT District 1 Administrator Bob Vosen.
Vosen said in a recent interview with MTN News that they will not be enforcing trespassing on their property just yet.
"We won't be actively relocating people, like I said that's not MDT's role. The construction of the fence will get started, but the relocation is going to be more independent on when the other facilities are available." - MDT District 1 Administrator Bob Vosen
The City and County are exploring potential property options to create more homeless shelters.
We asked Stevens if he thinks MDT's fencing will help. He said, "I would like to think it would, I am concerned. We have a fence line, they are putting a fence line, what that's going to create is a buffer walking zone for them."
Stevens says he doesn't know if the fencing will be enough to keep people off the property, but he agrees officials should offer resources to help people.
"Personally, myself, it's a hard topic. There are so many things, people are like 'put em on a bus, send em away,' you gotta address the problem, you gotta give people a hand up, not a handout." - Lonnie Stevens
He continued there are resources in town for people that might be experiencing homelessness.
"They'll help you with a resume, they'll help you get cleaned up. They'll take you to job interviews, there's tons of organizations out there, you just have to want the hand up. It's not good when you're in that situation, and I feel bad for them."
In a news release earlier this month, MDT said law enforcement may patrol the area during the fence installation, but they won't remove encampment residents yet.
The release said "Trespassing will be enforced only when the City, County, and community partners sanction a new safe camping location. When that time comes, MDT will work with community partners to ensure empathetic enforcement."