Licensed Campsite: Missoula Official Provides Update, Addresses Concerns | Local News

Concerns about litter piling up under the Reserve Street Bridge and the concentration of low-income and homeless Missoulians in already low-income neighborhoods were raised at a community forum hosted by the Reserve Street Working Group on Tuesday.

Casey Gannon, County Shelter Projects Coordinator, provided an update on the Permitted Campsite, a 40-site legal tent campsite on Clark Fork Lane behind the Super Walmart.

Gannon said that since opening in January, the site has been at capacity. A private security company, Rogers International, has been engaged to provide 24/7 security at the site.

“Rogers International was amazing there,” Gannon said. “They have relationships and build relationships and are able to de-escalate many situations that might have required law enforcement.”

He said the guards had solved many problems at the site. Gannon also said the city and county have hired a staff member to be on site during the work week to help run things and keep the area clean. The Community Care Team from the Partnership Health Center, the Homeless Outreach Team from the Poverello Center and representatives from the Hope Rescue Mission are also working with people living at the site to connect them to health and housing services.

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“The purpose of the authorized campsite is to provide a low-barrier place to legally camp and to reduce illegal urban camping,” Gannon said.

He noted that initially the camp was successful in luring people out of the illegal long-term entrenched camps under the Reserve Street Bridge. However, in recent weeks he said people had returned to live below deck and there was now a lot of very visible rubbish.

“We saw people coming back to the illegal Reserve Street camp,” he said. “There’s quite a lot of trash scattered and strewn around the area.”

Gannon said the Montana Department of Transportation, which owns the land under the bridge, was supposed to perform a cleanup in March but canceled it due to a lack of staff.

Kevin Davis, an organizer with the Reserve Street Working Group, said volunteers were still needed to clean up the waterfront area below the bridge from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Earth Day, April 22.

Gannon said county officials were aware of the litter under the Reserve Street Bridge.

“Rogers is working with the city to get people out from under the bridge again,” he said. “With the closure of the Johnson Street Emergency Winter Shelter on April 18, we are going to see more urban camping. We will continue to work with the city on how this will be resolved. The authorized campsite is part of the solution, but it will not solve everything. »

Gannon noted that by next year, the 202-unit Trinity affordable housing project is expected to be open, which means many more low-income people should have more housing options. Gannon also reminded people that the temporary secure outdoor space, currently located on the south side of the city, will likely move this fall to Mullan Road, near the corner of West Broadway, next to where 130 units of the Trinity complex are under construction.

John Wolverton, a community member attending the forum, said he noticed that all public housing or legal camping projects seem to be concentrated in the West Broadway area.

Wolverton said public engagement in affluent neighborhoods tends to be higher because people have more time and resources to call their council member or talk at meetings about things they don’t like. not. However, residents of low-income neighborhoods are often unaware of the burden that decision-makers place on their neighborhood.

“These are low-income citizens forced into low-income census tracts. It’s an expression of classism,” Wolverton said. “It’s ‘Let’s put all the poor there so we don’t have to take care of them.’ The community needs to know that there is a slow progression towards the concentration of low income people in what is already a low income area.

Gannon said the county and city are already “very aware” of this issue. However, he said the decision to move the TSOS to the West Broadway area was made because there were simply no other options.

“We had a hard time finding this place,” Gannon said. “It’s been a battle to find a location, so there’s certainly no intention of putting it where there were already a lot of low-income people staying there.

Wolverton said Missoula doesn’t need “another Cabrini-Green,” referring to high-rise low-income housing projects near Chicago’s wealthiest neighborhoods that have been bulldozed because they don’t were not maintained. He also said it’s well known in planning circles that it’s not good for cities to concentrate low-income residents in one area.

“We need duplexes and quadruplexes all over the city for affordable housing and social services that don’t force low-income people to always gravitate to a low-income area,” Wolverton said. “It ties in with our heads of government having to have more open processes.”

Overall, Gannon said, the authorized camping site has been successful in that it has given people a safe and healthy place to live while limiting the number of long-term entrenched camps that are harmful to people. the environment and people.

“Our main success is trying to reduce urban camping throughout Missoula,” Gannon said. “People had (been under the Reserve Street Bridge) for years and years and providing a safe and legal place gives them a bit more leeway and gives them more steps to find better housing options. .”

He noted that service delivery is much smoother when people are in legal space.

“Awareness is easier, it’s easy to find people when we know where they live in a designated area,” he said. “But we’ll probably see more urban camping and illegal camping.”

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