The authorized campground planned as a replacement for the illegal site under the Reserve Street bridge is expected to open next month, once the state health department signs off on the inspection.
Missoula County this week approved a contract with Outback Inc. to provide portable restrooms for the sanctioned camp site. The contract provides $675 a month for the service.
“This is the last piece the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services needs to grant us approval to operate a campground,” said Casey Gannon, the county’s shelter protection coordinator. “This project is split with the city. We have an agreement with them to share all costs.”
The county in September applied for a camping permit from the state to establish the campground for the city’s hard-to-reach homeless population.
The site, located off Clark Fork Lane on city property, was recommended by an incident team created to explore an array of options under Operation Shelter.
“We’ll get a campground set up and have a health department official come out and check the site to make sure we’re in compliance before we open,” said Gannon. “We should open in mid-January.”
In an effort to address homelessness in Missoula and its many forms, the incident team in July recommended three separate strategies and locations across the city to accommodate legal camping, temporary shelter and transitional housing.
While the approach has a number of moving parts and will receive city and county funding through the American Rescue Plan, the legal camp site off Clark Fork Lane is poised to move forward first.
Once the site is open, the city and county have said they’ll be able to enforce the no-trespassing rules now in place under Reserve Street. Camping there is already illegal, though it will now come with enforcement once the new camp site opens.
“We can’t tell people not to camp on public property unless we give them an option of somewhere else to go, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said recently. “Until such a time as we can provide an option, we can’t do that (enforcement).”