At the request of new mayor, City Council delays urban camping ordinance again
Photo: A homeless camp near downtown Missoula. (David Stalling)
(Missoula Current) With a change in leadership taking place this month at the city's top office, the Missoula City Council will delay its decision on an urban camping ordinance until early next year.
The decision, announced on Monday night, marks the second time the proposal has been postponed. The first delay took place in October when it was set for a vote but, at the time, city leaders said it needed more time.
City Council president Gwen Jones said the decision to delay the issue – this time until early January – will give incoming mayor Andrea Davis time to weigh in on the matter. City Council is also working on a parallel ordinance regarding camping in parks, and the two issues will now be considered side-by-side in January.
“Council has been working on an urban camping ordinance for quite a few months, based on what has unfolded in Missoula for the last year or so related to urban camping,” Jones said. “Although we had cued it up to start hearing it, we decided after some good discussions with the new incoming mayor, Andrea Davis, to hit pause and hear that in early 2024.”
Overnight camping in city parks and public places became an issue in the spring when the Johnson Street shelter closed for the season. Without having enough shelter space, the city said it was unable to enforce rules on camping due to a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court.
Since then, both the city and county have directed nearly $2 million to open a second shelter on a year-round basis, and have funded other programs associated with homelessness. In doing so, they vowed to enforce rules on urban camping once the beds were made available.
“With Johnson Street shelter being open, there's significant decreases in public complaints,” Jones said. “This draft is a good start on an ordinance that addresses time, place and manner of restrictions, but being part of those conversations is a high value. She (Davis) is committed to working with staff and council on this ordinance.”
The issue was coming to a head as early as Sunday when council member Daniel Carlino on Twitter called out four members of City Council for wanting “to use police force and fines to punish people who are experiencing homeless.”
Carlino named council members Mike Nugent, Heidi West, Gwen Jones and Stacie Anderson. None of the four are on the public record suggesting “police force” as a solution to homelessness.
Davis, who will be sworn in as mayor next week, asked the same four council members in an email to remove the urban camping ordinance from Wednesday's agenda.
“I would appreciate the opportunity to review the implications of this ordinance with city departments, assess resources and budget demands associated with this ordinance, and seek input from community stakeholders,” Davis told the four council members in a letter she shared with the Missoula Current.
“As I campaigned across Missoula for the past eight months, I heard many perspectives and concerns regarding the issue of homelessness. It's my intention to address this ordinance in the ecosystem of solutions the City and our public and private partners have implemented and are working towards,” Davis added. “Regarding the intent of this specific ordinance, I understand its necessity, in some form, in preparation for spring when warmer temperatures encourage people to sleep outside of a congregate or emergency shelter.”
Davis said she wasn't out to kill the ordinance and pledged to bring it back for consideration at a later date.
“I want to be part of conversations that establish a sound and defensible ordinance in collaboration and partnership with community stakeholders,” she said. “I am committed to working with staff and council to establish a process that we will bring this back for council consideration.”