Mayor John Engen and all three Missoula County Commissioners held a press conference on Tuesday outside the County Courthouse along with Director of Missoula Emergency Management Adriane Beck to announce an end to illegal camping in the ‘urban wild’ and to create safe, indoor housing for those who are termed ‘unhoused residents’.

Engen, Commissioners Strohmaier and Slotnick spoke passionately about creating another incident command team while addressing the problem in Missoula.

“The challenge of being ‘unhoused’ is that you don't have a place to live and so because this is such a critical issue for our community, what we have elected to do, the county commissioners and I working with staff is to deploy the incident command team to help us treat this as a critical incident in the county in the city,” began Mayor Engen.

Incident command teams have been utilized in the recent effort to get people vaccinated against COVID 19 in Missoula.

Commissioner Strohmaier said the time is over for repeating the same old solutions with little to no success.

“Make no mistake about it friends,” began Strohmaier. “We are experiencing a public health, a humanitarian and environmental crisis on the streets and within the parks of our community. By standing up this incident management team, we are bringing the focused resources necessary to avoid just a lot of good intentions and diffuse efforts. But bringing those focused resources to find the place the places that Mayor Engen had just mentioned, that will be their safe secure receiving zones for folks to move to, while we put them on a trajectory for solid housing down the road.”

Commissioner Slotnick further described the problem Missoula continues to experience.

“When people are camping illegally in the urban wild, they create a level of squalor and environmental degradation that is not tolerable,” said Commissioner Slotnick.
“When people camp illegally in the urban wild, they live in that squalor and they cannot move their lives forward. Imagine if you were spending all of your energy worrying about the security of your person and your stuff. You're not going to get anything else done. You see people without houses pushing their belongings along. They have to carry them with them because if they don't, someone will pilfer the little they have. People who are stuck in this situation are making a mess and they can’t improve their lives.”

OEM Director Adriane Beck said the issue is serious enough to declare an emergency, so that funds can be directed at the problem.

“When we have an issue where we need to bring multiple parties together to find creative solutions, the incident command system is often deployed,” said Beck. “This isn't a fire. This isn't a flood, but the same concepts will prevail, in that we will use objectives based management. The objectives that they've given us are pretty clear and what you've heard today is we will find solutions and options for consideration when we look at basic human needs being met in a safe and secure location.”

Beck said a new email address has been created to address the problems and possible solutions for the public to utilize. It is solutions@missoulacounty.us.

Mayor Engen said that ARPA funds will be requested to help get the program underway.

Part of a press release issued prior to the news conference asked for ‘some degree of reasonableness and civility as we move forward. We live in an age of hot rhetoric that foments discord when we need thoughtful suggestions on how we move forward together; striking a balance that comes closer to serving more interests. This plan is designed to do just that.’ We will no longer accept illegal camping in the urban wild; we will offer safe, secure, sanitary shelter with enough services to help people move forward. We will never allow ourselves to look like the major metro areas of the Northwest.

KGVO has offered time on the Montana Morning News program from 6:00 a.m. to 8:30 and on Talk Back from 8:30 am. to 10:00 a.m. for the Commissioners, the Mayor and Director Beck to appear and address the show's audience, and to take calls from listeners. All three commissioners were enthusiastic about connecting with KGVO listeners on this topic. KGVO requires callers to be polite and respectful when making comments or asking questions.

 

LOOK: 50 photos of American life in 2020