Missoula City Council

People living unsheltered in our country is a humanitarian crisis that has been decades in the making. It has been caused by housing policies, cuts to mental health care, wages not keeping up with housing, closing mental health centers, an opioid epidemic, cuts to addiction care, state cuts to Medicaid and so on.

It is an issue that needs solutions at the state and federal level but one that has fallen onto local governments.  It is an issue no community has solved and it is one our country will be dealing with for a very long time.

As of June 28th, the Supreme Court overturned the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling on Johnson vs Grants Pass. Per this ruling, municipalities are again able to enforce camping bans regardless of shelter bed availability and impose criminal penalties for infractions.

This was the ruling that many of us expected but it is not what Missoula plans to do. We understand this requires a thoughtful and compassionate response regardless of what the courts do or don’t allow us to do.

For many decades, Missoula has banned camping on city property. Due to an increase in those experiencing homelessness in our community and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals directive, this has not been enforced. Instead, we have been cleaning up camps that have posed health and safety risks and working to keep our trails and parks clean.

Prior to the Supreme Court ruling, on June 24th, Missoula City Council passed an ordinance (10-2) that we believe is a balanced, compassionate approach in mitigating the effects of crisis camping in our community and optimizing usage of our shelter facilities, while also taking into account that our entire community has the right to a safe and healthy environment, the use of our parks and trails as well as a healthy river.

The Ordinance

-This ordinance does NOT ban camping on city property, but it does put buffers where people are not allowed to camp.  What it does not allow, is camping in certain parks used for events and youth camps, near schools or daycares, within 100 ft. of homes or business entrances, near shelter facilities or beside the river.

-This ordinance DOES allow overnight camping, 8pm-8am, outside of buffer zones on city owned property.

-This ordinance DOES require people to clean up their camps and put away their tents in the morning. It does NOT ban anyone from using our parks during the day.

-This ordinance does NOT criminalize homelessness.  All enforcement measures are civil, not criminal.

-This ordinance DOES attempt to encourage people living unsheltered to utilize our shelter facilities in lieu of camping.  Shelters are safer, have bathrooms, trash containers, food service, access to medical care/service providers and will soon have locking storage for belongings.

-This ordinance directs the mayor to investigate other viable options and to collaborate with community partners.

-This ordinance calls for an annual review to assess what is working and what needs changes.

The City has established an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, opened the Johnson Street Shelter, invested in the Homeless Outreach Team, the Mobile Support team, the POV as well as numerous affordable housing projects. We remain committed to working on this as well as collaborating with both new and existing partners.

This issue impacts all Missoulians. We need our representatives at the state level to recognize their responsibility in this crisis and the burden that is being shifted to the taxpayers without their help.

This ordinance attempts to strike a balance that is compassionate, optimizes the resources we have already invested in, shares our public spaces, considers our limited finances and moves people forward.

Amber Sherrill, Council President; Mirtha Becerra, Council Vice President, Council Members Stacie Anderson, Sierra Farmer, Gwen Jones, Eric Melson, Mike Nugent, Jennifer Savage.