Kristen Jordan

Last August, I submitted a referral for rotating authorized campsites to address multiple issues related to survival camping in Missoula. The idea was to provide a simple solution to a complicated issue by identifying two properties in each ward, supplying basic services such as trash bins, sharps bins, and porta-potties, in an effort to ensure our unhoused neighbors have a safe, predictable, and clean place to rest.

By having several open at a time, we could ensure each neighborhood shares in looking after our unhoused neighbors while also ensuring that our unhoused neighbors know where they can go without violating any laws.

The City of Missoula has done an incredible job putting permanently affordable housing online. It has also done an incredible job creating congregant shelter space for our unhoused neighbors. However, it isn’t enough, unfortunately.

At full capacity, our shelters do not have enough space. Additionally, the City of Missoula does not have the resources to open another shelter. What it does have is the capacity to designate authorized campsites, which was a key agreement of the Urban Camping Working Group.

However, the City of Missoula is choosing to implement a regulatory tool and exclusionary zones without first telling the unhoused where they can go. The City of Missoula states it is not a service provider and therefore cannot create authorized campsites. Additionally, the City of Missoula states that funding these types of services will be problematic.

On any given day in Missoula County, you and I are paying $150/night/inmate at our local jail. These funds are budgeted for and allocated by the County Commissioners. With the recent uptick in charging non-violent unhoused people with felony burglary for stealing items less than $100 in value, we taxpayers are paying dearly for a strategy that will not address the underlying behavior, poverty. For six unhoused individuals I researched, we are paying $217,500 to incarcerate them. And there’s more.

We, on City Council, have heard from businesses, residents, and our unhoused neighbors that something needs to be done. By designating authorized campsites, the needs of all of the key stakeholders in Missoula will be met. However, if we implement exclusionary zones and a regulatory tool prior to telling our unhoused neighbors where they can go, the result will be increased interactions between business owners, residents, and the police with our unhoused neighbors.

By addressing the misuse of our local criminal legal system for non-violent, indigent defendants, we can redirect funds to pay for strategies that work! I do not condone theft, or any crime, however the criminal legal system is not the appropriate avenue to create behavioral modifications. The uptick in homelessness is the symptom, not the problem. The problem lies in punitive and unregulated federal and state policies wherein cities and counties must find less than ideal solutions.

However, local representatives from key constituencies all agree that authorized campsites are a valid solution. Let’s continue to pressure our mayor, city councilors, and county commissioners to implement them!

Kristen Jordan represents Ward 6 on the Missoula City Council.