MISSOULA — The Montana Department of Transportation announced Thursday almost all residents at the homeless encampment under the Reserve Street Bridge have relocated, and they will close access to the property.
Just last month, MDT announced people living in the camp under the bridge, which is the property of MDT, had until January 25 to move. At the same time, Missoula officials opened another, this time legal encampment across the river.
Bob Vosen, with the Montana Department of Transportation, said at its peak, about 140 people were living in the area. But now, he said everyone is relocating, with the start of a new authorized camping site, and the help of the Homeless Outreach Team.
“There’s just a lot of pieces that had to be put together to get to where we are today,” Vosen said.
The HOT team helped coordinate communication efforts. Guy Johnson explained how the HOT team works. “Meeting clients where they’re at. Not just in a physical term, their campsite or something, but all around. Sometimes it just takes a good conversation with folks, to emotionally be there as well.”
Johnson said people are comfortable at the new camping site.
"With the authorized campsite, it's been open for about two and a half or three weeks now, and it's, out of the 40 sites, I would say around 30 of the sites are taken already. Everybody's getting comfortable with it moving in there, it's well needed with what our population serves."
Johnson also said from what he's heard, people like staying at the new campsite. “They don’t have to worry about their stuff being stolen, or getting trespassed, or somebody coming over and harassing them, asking them to move. It’s great, they love it.”
Vosen said MDT will lock the gates to the area under the bridge on Thursday. He also said there will be security near the bridge, and people will be able to get any belongings left behind later this spring. He explained “a lot of the folks that have moved to other sites, some of their stuff was stuck to the ground and frozen down there.”
Volunteer and environmental cleanups are also planned for when the weather warms.