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Missoula County adopts resolution calling for “sanitary, safe and secure’ shelter sites

Posted at 4:59 PM, Sep 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-27 19:00:22-04

MISSOULA — Less than a month after adopting a resolution around justice and equity, Missoula County followed with a resolution on housing, saying it sets a policy framework on issues facing the metropolitan region.

The resolution, largely targeted toward the homeless, calls for the creation of “sanitary, safe and secure” supported shelter for the city’s unhoused population.

“It’s a chance to address issues around housing and homelessness occurring in Missoula County,” said Chris Lounsbury, the county’s CAO. “We’re dealing with everything from folks who are unhoused to a really difficult housing market.”

Two weeks ago, Missoula County agreed to apply for a camping permit from the state to establish a sanctioned campground for the homeless, which is planned on city property off Clark Fork Lane.

The site was recommended by an incident team created to explore an array of options under Operation Shelter, as it’s become known. While the site may not be perfect, county officials said it’s among the only sites available for sanctioned camping.

“We had our staff run through a rigorous process,” Commissioner Josh Slotnick said of finding a suitable location. “It becomes a pretty thin selection pretty quickly. This is a tricky thing to deal with.”

The resolution notes the many issues that can lead to homelessness, including addiction, mental illness and poverty, lost jobs and medical bankruptcy. It also suggests that unhoused individuals will, by necessity, find somewhere to live, and some will take to the urban wild.

That has created issues under the Reserve Street bridge, where an illegal homeless camp has existed for years. The many issues surrounding the illegal camp prompted the city and county launch Operation Shelter and begin finding cost-effective ways to address the homeless challenge.

The first recommendation was to establish a sanctioned homeless camp off Clark Fork Lane.

Once that facility opens, the county has said, it can begin to enforce illegal camping under Reserve Street. The resolution suggests that “compassion without enforcement could create an unintended cycle of enablement and entropy.”

“We’ve heard loud and clear from people who want this issue addressed,” Slotnick said. “We’re committing ourselves to working on this, not to solving it. They’re two different things.”