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.