Clarie Peterson

(KPAX) Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen is leading a coalition to overturn a court decision that makes it illegal for cities to prohibit urban camping without available shelter beds.

Knudsen used Missoula as an example city that could benefit from his coalition.

The coalition of 24 attorneys general wrote in their Friday amicus brief, “It is States and localities that have the local knowledge needed to address the problem, and it is States and localities that ultimately bear the costs of homelessness and of homeless policy. It should be States and localities that make the decisions.”

While the news release included Billings, Bozeman, and Kalispell among Montana cities facing large homeless problems, it specifically referenced Missoula, saying “the city is restricted in its ability to combat the issue.”

Missoula City Council President Amber Sherrill said the Ninth Circuit Court decision does not affect Missoula’s response, and whether Knudsen and his colleagues are successful or not, the city will not change its approach.

“I think that what we're trying to do in the city, regardless of all of that, is figure out kind of a comprehensive response to it, right?” she said. “I mean, criminalizing it isn't going to do anything about the problem, so what we're trying to do, and what I think cities all over the country are trying to do is figure out a response that really has some results."

Missoula Mayor Andrea Davis recently began the Missoula Urban Camping Working Group, which will meet several times to determine the best response to homeless people sleeping overnight in parks.

“It will be interesting what will come out of those meetings and what feels like a comprehensive response and not a bandaid, and not, you know, filling our jails– that costs us money,” Sherrill said. “If we’re going to criminalize it to the point that we’re putting people who are living unsheltered in jail, that’s going to cost a lot of money, and we need to recognize that as well.”

The Missoula City Council passed an emergency urban camping ordinance last summer which closed city parks, trails and conservation lands from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. as a way to prevent overnight camping.