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Missoula City Council endorses new urban camping restrictions

The Missoula City Council gave an initial green light to new restrictions on where unhoused people can live. That vote followed a marathon meeting that stretched into early Tuesday morning.

The council approved “buffer zones” that ban unhoused people from camping overnight near residences, businesses, schools, along the Clark Fork River and several other areas. The resolution also requires people to dismantle their shelters on city property each day after 8 a.m.

Many attendees pushed back on the restrictions, saying they go too far and dehumanize the homeless population. Some, like Missoula resident Sage Bennett, said they felt the resolution didn’t reflect discussions from the city’s working group on urban camping.

“It’s just been really heartbreaking to have to sit in these meetings and hear the things you have to say about individuals in your community who are just trying to survive,” Bennett said.

Others said the policy unfairly punishes unhoused people without a clear plan for adding and improving services like a designated camping site or sharps disposal.

The Missoula Chamber of Commerce spoke in support of the measure, saying the restrictions would improve safety and accessibility for businesses.

The council ultimately voted 10-2 to approve the restrictions. Council representative Eric Melson said the resolution represented a first step on the city’s road to supporting its unhoused population.

“Are we trying something new to figure out if it works for our community? Yes. Is that bold and courageous? I think so,” Melson said.

A public hearing is set for June 24 to further discuss policy on urban camping.

Austin graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program in May 2022. He came to MTPR as an evening newscast intern that summer, and jumped at the chance to join full-time as the station’s morning voice in Fall 2022.

He is best reached by emailing austin.amestoy@umt.edu.
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