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Missoula officials launch new plan to address 'critical' issue of homelessness

(Photo: NBC Montana Sky Team)
(Photo: NBC Montana Sky Team)
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Missoula officials say the city and county’s unhoused -- or homeless -- issue is “a seemingly intractable problem” as they continue to lead the state with the highest number of unhoused people. Now, they’re calling the situation “critical.”

“What we’ve decided to do is deploy an incident command team to treat this as a critical incident in the county,” said Missoula Mayor John Engen.

The incident command team, led by Adriane Beck with the Office of Emergency Management, will compile a list of possible legal places to camp. They’ll bring the list to commissioners and begin the public process. That’s when you’ll be able to submit ideas and comments to

Officials say the two main goals are to find the unhoused population safe and stable housing while making sure public spaces remain safe, clean and usable by everyone.

“Some might ask what are we doing differently now, why now and not in the past. Well, we are firm believers in not simply trying the same thing and expecting different results,” said County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier.

The Missoula Parks and Recreation department recently shut down the West Broadway Island after the health department noted unsanitary matter was too close to the Clark Fork river.

“When people are camping illegally in the urban wild, they create a level of squalor and environmental degradation that is not tolerable, and they live in that squalor and they can’t move their own lives forward,” said County Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “If we want the environmental degradation to go away that comes from people living illegally in the urban wild, we have to get them in housing.

Slotnick says housing at the temporary safe outdoor space, or TSOS, in south Missoula showed them that with shelter and security, people can move forward and get IDs and jobs.

It’s also how officials say Missoula will avoid becoming like Seattle, where since 2006, homelessness grew twice as fast as the population.

“Look at Seattle and say how did they happen -- it’s because no one did what we’re going to do right now,” said Slotnick.

A big part of the plan involves relocating those in places like the Reserve Street camp while enforcing a ban on illegal urban camping, but officials say they’re not going to “chase” anyone out of Missoula.

“We’re not in the business of clearing that Reserve Street site until we have someplace for people to go, that was a challenge at Broadway and if I had it to do over again, we’d have a place for those folks to go rather than just have them move most likely to Reserve Street,” said Engen. “That was my mistake.”

What this will cost and when the list of legal campsites will be available is up in the air. They won’t know until they have a list of options.

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