Licensed Tenting Web site: Missoula official offers replace, addresses issues | Native Information


Concerns about garbage accumulation under the Reserve Street Bridge and how low-income, vulnerable Missoulians are being concentrated in already low-income neighborhoods were raised during a community forum hosted by the Reserve Street Working Group on Tuesday.

Casey Gannon, the county’s animal shelter projects coordinator, provided an update on the Authorized Campground, a legal 40-site tent campground on Clark Fork Lane behind the Super Walmart.

Gannon said the location has been operating at full capacity since it opened in January. A private security company, Rogers International, has been hired to provide 24-hour security at the site.

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

He said the guards solved many problems on the spot. Gannon also said the city and county hired an employee to travel around the site during the workweek to help manage things and keep the area clean. The Partnership Health Center’s community care team, the Poverello Center’s Homeless Outreach Team, and representatives from the Hope Rescue Mission are also working with the people who live locally to connect them with health and housing services.

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“The purpose of the authorized campground is to provide a low barrier site for legal camping and reduce illegal camping in the city,” Gannon said.

He noted that the camp was initially successful in extracting people from long-term illegal camps entrenched under the Reserve Street Bridge. However, in recent weeks people have returned to live under the bridge and there is now a lot of highly visible rubbish.

“We saw people moving back into the illegal camp on Reserve Street,” he said. “There is quite a bit of rubbish scattered and strewn around the area.”

Gannon said the Montana Department of Transportation, which owns the land under the bridge, was scheduled to conduct a cleanup in March but canceled due to staff shortages.

Kevin Davis, an organizer with the Reserve Street Working Group, said that on Earth Day, April 22,

Gannon said county officials are aware of the trash under the Reserve Street Bridge.

“Rogers is working with the city to get people back out from under the bridge,” he said. “As the Johnson Street Emergency Winter Shelter closes on April 18th, we will see more camping in the city. We will continue to work with the city on how to address this. The authorized campsite is part of the solution, but it will not solve everything.”

Gannon noted that the 202-unit Trinity affordable housing project should open by next year, meaning many more people with lower wages should have more housing options. Gannon also reminded people that the Temporary Safe Outdoor Space, which is currently on the south side of town, will likely be moved to Mullan Road near the corner of West Broadway this fall, next to where 130 units of the Trinity -Complex to be built.

John Wolverton, a community member attending the forum, said he’s noticed that any low-income housing or legal camping projects seem to be concentrated in the West Broadway area.

Wolverton said public engagement tends to be higher in affluent neighborhoods because people have more time and resources to call their councilman or speak in meetings about things they don’t like. As a result, people in lower-income neighborhoods are often unaware of the burden that decision-makers are placing on their area.

“It’s low-income citizens who are being forced into low-income censuses. It’s an expression of classicism,” Wolverton said. “It’s like, ‘Let’s put all the poor people over there so we don’t have to take care of them.’ There needs to be some awareness in the community that there is a slow march towards a concentration of low-income people in an area that 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 TSOS to the West Broadway area was made because there were simply no other options.

“We had trouble finding this place,” Gannon said. “It was a struggle to find a location. So there is definitely no intention of putting it somewhere that has already housed a lot of low-income people.”

Wolverton said Missoula doesn’t need “another Cabrini-Green,” referring to high-rise, low-income housing projects near Chicago’s most affluent neighborhoods that were later demolished for lack of maintenance. He also said it’s well known in urban planning circles that concentrating low-income residents in a single area isn’t good for cities.

“We need citywide two- and four-family homes for affordable housing and social services that don’t force low-income people to always go to a low-income area,” Wolverton said. “Links to our leaders need to have more open processes.”

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

“Our greatest achievement is trying to reduce city camping throughout Missoula,” Gannon said. “People have been (under the Reserve Street Bridge) for years and providing a safe, legal place gives them a little more breathing room and gives them more steps to find better housing options.”

He found that when people are in a legal space, the delivery of services is much smoother.

“Public relations are easier, it’s easy to find people if we know where they live in a certain area,” he said. “But we will probably see more urban camping and illegal camping.”

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