by Travis Mateer
I am double-triggered today because sidewalks AND the Reserve Street encampment are both making headlines and both issues have involved direct involvement from me in ways that give me a unique perspective that is sadly closer to reality than what you will read in local media.
Let’s start with this report about the homeless camp under and around the Reserve Street bridge. The article begins with this inaccurate depiction of why enforcement stopped:
The Missoula Police Department eased up enforcement of illegal camping in the city as Missoula’s homeless shelter was at full capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, with the introduction of a new legal camping site near Reserve Street, Missoula Police said enforcement is back to how it was pre-pandemic, and officers are issuing citations for camping in the city.
No, the Missoula Police Department DID NOT “ease up enforcement” because of pandemic-imposed capacity limits at the Poverello Center. Enforcement strategies changed after I left my job as Homeless Outreach Coordinator and decisions were made to stop doing the cleanups I had been organizing in collaboration with the Health Department and Clark Fork Coalition.
One of the factors that has dissuaded enforcement is the lack of options for illegal campers to go. That has now changed with the opening of the official encampment by the sewage treatment plant and compost facility, so because of that trespassing will allegedly be enforced now, at least that is what police detective Ed McLean is claiming:
McLean said that when Missoula Police respond to these types of calls, officers will now encourage people to move to the camping site on Clark Fork Lane. The city and county have spent more than $1 million to open the site for service.
“Education pretty much just lies with informing them of the services that are offered for them,” McLean explained. “But we are taking a very proactive enforcement role initially on our responses to that area so that people utilize the facility as it’s planned.”
I am very interested to see what this “proactive enforcement role” is going to look like, so stay tuned.
On the sidewalk front, I was tickled to see this issue already exposing some emerging fault lines with new City Council members. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about:
Other potential flaws in the city’s current sidewalk plan also surfaced on Monday. Councilmember Mike Nugent suggested that a buyer of a new home in Missoula absorbs 100% of the cost of the sidewalk abutting their property.
But those with existing homes enjoy some public subsidies, he added.
“When we talk about the cost of housing, in new construction, the homeowner is getting passed 100% of those sidewalk fees right now,” he said. “There’s not an appetite to raise taxes to do more sidewalks.”
The emphasis is on the part where Nugent shows he’s actually aware of public sentiment and knows that there is definitely NOT an “appetite to raise taxes” amongst the battered public of Zoom Town.
Nugent wasn’t the only one concerned about the costs being imposed on homeowners. Kirsten Jordan is also interested in looking at this issue, but the attempt to send it back to committee failed. Here’s what Jordan had to say about that:
“To say right now is not the time to address policy is really short-sighted and frustrating,” said newly elected council member Kristen Jordan. “We need to find a different way to fund these things. I’m very concerned about the cost on homeowners.”
I was concerned about this program back in 2018, which is why I wrote this poem about sidewalks. Alas, City Councilperson, Gwen Jones, didn’t like my poem and my first amendment protections, so she tested my ability to express myself in verse and found out that, yes, I STILL HAVE my first amendment rights to free speech.
If you appreciate how I use my free speech, please consider donating to my GoFundMe page.
Thanks for reading.
Mike Nugent voted along with the Engen crowd for adjacent homeowners to pay thousands of dollars for the sidewalks.
It’s interesting that Mike Nugent is worried about new homes and 100% sidewalk fees. His city council seat is the Southside Triangle, where the homes are mostly 60+ years old, with mostly usable sidewalks already. With that in mind, why is he worried about new home sidewalk construction, when his constituents have already paid for them?
He seems more worried about other parts of Missoula, than his own. Is he buying property in other parts of the city to build/flip like past city council people did? Remember the split lot/boundary movement on lots that made many city council people money back around 2008ish? In this scam, the city council voted to allow owners of 2 adjacent lots to move the property line between them so that they can maximize the lot size use and put 2 domiciles on them (instead of only 1).
Maybe I’m reaching, but genuinely curious why Nugent is even remotely concerned with new building sidewalk fees.
I appreciate the speculation, it certainly feels like there’s an unspoken component to Nugent’s concern.
I took a look at the new ward 4 boundaries, and didn’t realize Spanish Peaks was part of Ward 4, which does have a very expensive subdivision being build. However, considering the prices of the homes in this area, the sidewalk fee’s aren’t even a drop in the bucket compared to the sale price of the homes (many near or above $1 million). Also, it looks like land on Rimel Rd, might be prime for development. The only other new construction in Ward 4 that I’m aware of is the new mini subdivision across Dore Lane from Kohl’s, which is now nearly complete (with sidewalks already poured and paid for). There are a few small undeveloped lots litered around the Ward, but not nearly as many as other parts of Missoula. When I have more time, I’ll start digging through McPIS (Missoula County Property Information System), and see if I can find anything owned by Nugent.
I have to laugh when I hear that the city is going back to its pre-pandemic tactic of writing citations to enforce the city’s camping ban. It obviously didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. Anybody who thinks writing a homeless person a citation is going to change the underlying factors driving homelessness, or get that homeless person off the street is delusional–unless you think jailing a homeless person for not paying the fine or showing up in court when a warrant is issued is a good solution.
Have you ever seen the police try and cite someone who doesn’t have an ID, and refuses (or is incapable) to give their full legal name, and list their address as “under the Reserve Street Bridge?” Thinking this is a good tactic just reveals one’s privilege.
I wouldn’t take anything being reported on this particular area at this particular time as being accurate. Before we even get to police writing citations we need to understand the role of private security doing “sweeps”. The city isn’t going back to any pre-pandemic strategy, that’s a smokescreen. They, and their County counterparts, are going full steam ahead toward public/private fascism.