For the first time, Missoula Mayor John Engen, and Missoula County Commissioners Dave Strohmaier, Josh Slotnick and Juanita Vero appeared together on KGVO’s Montana Morning News show, in response to an invitation following a press conference on camping in the urban wild.

Commissioner Strohmaier addressed the issue of what is now called ‘Operation Shelter’.

“It has not been lost on us that in our midst here in the Missoula and Missoula County community, we have folks living in the urban wild who are unsheltered and unhoused,” said Strohmaier. “With that brings not only the greatest situation for those individuals trying to get themselves back on track but also on the impact to the community.”

The issue of what has happened to Seattle over the last decade was mentioned, with the expression, ‘if you build it, they (the homeless) will come’, to which Commissioner Slotnick strongly protested, saying the approach in Missoula is exactly the opposite.

“If we create places for people to live, that are sanctioned, safe, clean and sanitary, then they're not living in tents on the street,” said Slotnick. “The idea is that we never ever see anything like what you're describing. We do know that if we do nothing, that exactly what you're describing will happen. We learned a lesson with the temporary safe outdoor space. We created spaces for people to live that are clean, secure, safe, monitored, and those folks who are living in those spaces are now no longer living in tents out in the open throwing their garbage everywhere. They're living in a contained way in the way that we all live in a contained way.”

Slotnick continued with his assertion that it was a myth that such a policy would simply draw more homeless people to Missoula.

“That's a myth,” he said. “And how are we going to stop people from coming to Missoula? Well, we could get rid of grocery stores and hospitals and make our place crummy or if we wanted to do that, well, we could stop people coming here. We would also stop people coming here who want to come and work here. Stop people coming here who are just hitching a ride. People are going to come here no matter what. And the caller said these policies haven't worked. That's not true. This policy hasn't happened yet.”

Mayor Engen said life on the street is tough, and that ‘Operation Shelter’ will benefit those who take part.

“The Incident Command Team is likely to present us sometime this week with some options for us to consider for urban sanctions campgrounds, and that's important that we have safety and sanitation and that we have the programming commensurate with helping folks get back on track,” said Engen. “Life on the street isn't easy and life on the street has a cost.”

Callers quizzed the Commissioners and the Mayor on a number of issues, from parking to the TSOS shelters and even rising property taxes.

KGVO will present more from Tuesday’s conversation in a later story on this website.

 

The city already has a monthly appointment called 'City Talk' on Talk Back, and now the County Commissioners have also committed to appearing on Talk Back every month to answer questions from listeners.

Find out more by visiting Engage Missoula and send suggestions to solutions@missoulacounty.us.

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