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Missoula City Council affirms support for new restrictions on unhoused population

A majority of Missoula City Council members signed a public letter reaffirming support for new restrictions on where unhoused people can live.

The council members in the letter say addressing homelessness requires a “thoughtful and compassionate response,” and argue the new city ordinance aligns with that goal.

The policy prohibits unhoused people from staying overnight in so-called “buffer zones” — public spaces within a certain distance from schools, residences, the Clark Fork River and other areas.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently paved the way for communities to ban people from sleeping outside — but Missoula City Council President Amber Sherrill says the new ordinance doesn’t do that.

“Our goal is not to penalize anyone,” Sherrill said in a phone interview. “Our goal is to get voluntary compliance to the rules as we’ve set them.”

The ordinance does not allow for people to be criminally charged, and doesn’t ban staying overnight on all city property. Violators will first receive a written warning, and could be fined costs to clean up their campsite for future offenses.

Sherrill says the goal is safe and clean city parks and trails, while encouraging unhoused people to use the shelter system.

Many city residents have pushed back on the measure at public hearings. Opponents say the ordinance unfairly punishes unhoused people without making it clear where they can safely camp.

Council president Sherrill says the city will regularly review the policy to determine what, if anything, needs to change.

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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