With the clock ticking on the longevity of the Reserve Street homeless camp, Missoula city and county officials plan to coordinate cleanup efforts, future enforcement, and management of alternative shelter options for the unhoused.
In a meeting this week, Missoula County said the fence around the newly sanctioned outdoor camp will be finished next week off Clark Fork Lane. Hard-sided shelters ordered by the county also have arrived and will be erected soon in what officials are calling a temporary safe outdoor space.
A location for the temporary safe outdoor space hasn’t been identified as of yet. But once the sanctioned camp site opens, local officials plan to close the Reserve Street camp and begin enforcement of a no-camping policy.
“The shelters have arrived and are stored,” said county CAO Chris Lounsbury. “We’re working with Hope Rescue Mission on the timing to move them (shelters) to the location. We’re also working with the sheriff’s department on using that unused piece of ground.”
Placement of the fence around the sanctioned camp site and the pending construction of the shelters in the safe outdoor space are just two of many moving pieces in an effort to transition away from the illegal camp on Reserve Street, which has become a growing source of public frustration.
The Montana Department of Transportation placed a fence around the camp this year, but it’s still waiting to place the final gates, effectively closing the area off.
But cleaning it up will likely be a challenging task.
“There’s a mess that’s out there. It’s going to be a big cleanup,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier.
Past cleanup efforts have netted tons of garbage ranging from mattresses to personal effects. But the waste also includes items considered hazardous, including hypodermic needles, and that’s a concern to local officials as they look to close the illegal camp and clean the site.
“There’s a ton of garbage left behind, including hazardous stuff,” said Missoula Mayor John Engen. “It’s a big deal to clean up. It’s not something that a young park attendant signs on for. It’s not a street department thing, nor is a cop thing or a fire thing.”
Engen said the city may look to contract out the cleanup work, and the county has expressed interest in possibly partnering in the effort. Ideally, Engen said, the contractor would be on call for other cleanups as well, including those related to crime scenes.
The Missoula Police Department has expressed interest as well, Engen said.
“Victims can be doubly victimized by the fact that their house is now a mess, a crime scene, and a source of continuing trauma,” Engen said. “We want to find a way to establish a cleanup fund and have someone all call for those incidents. That might be a cause for the sheriff’s department as well.”
Both the city and county last month allocated more than $200,000 each to open and operate the emergency winter shelter on Johnson Street. That shelter became necessary after the Poverello was forced to cap its occupancy under CDC guidelines related to the pandemic.
The City and County also have contributed additional funding to help the Poverello recruit and retain workers for the emergency winter shelter. And with the temporary outdoor camp now set to open, likely in January, both governments will meet to discuss their enforcement of a pending no-camping policy under the Reserve Street bridge.
“We’ve been pretty public about an expectation of enforcement and when that would begin,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick.