A new ‘authorized campsite’ has been created by Missoula city and county officials that will provide a secure place for those who had previously been camping in Missoula’s ‘urban wild.’

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The site, located at Concrete Way and Clark Fork Lane near the Super Walmart off Mullan Road, contains 36 unimproved campsites that will have 24-7 security, portable toilets, and a secure fence.

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Mayor John Engen said the authorized campsite is a first step toward finding housing for Missoula’s unhoused population.

“Thank you for being here at our sanctioned campsite,” began Mayor Engen. “I'm here with my colleagues from the Missoula County Board of Commissioners and I’m grateful for their presence and support. All of this work that we're doing, along with lots of members from staff and our partners at a variety of agencies who are all working together to solve what in many communities appears to be an intractable problem, and that is managing the plight of unhoused people.”

Engen said the authorized campsite is a safe place for the unhoused to get services and not be breaking the law by camping in the urban wild.

“Placing a sanctioned camp is a challenging piece of business,” he said. “But as we vetted locations, what we know is that first, we own this particular piece of land. It is relatively convenient for folks who are unhoused and seeking services. It is a little bit off the beaten path, particularly with regard to residential neighborhoods, and we believe it creates a safe opportunity for folks to live and begin to have access to the resources they need to be permanently housed, which is our goal here.”

County Commissioner Josh Slotnick said the Montana Department of Transportation will soon officially close the Reserve Street homeless camp, and this sanctioned campsite is a safe, logical alternative.

“So, right now we have people camping illegally under the Reserve Street Bridge and in other places across the county, people camping in urban wild,” said Commissioner Slotnick. “The very act of living in such a place causes environmental degradation. In addition, the very act of living in such a place causes a person to be very insecure and vulnerable. Having people come and camp here in a sanctioned safe place with sanitation helps alleviate both of those issues.”

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Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said, "doing nothing is not an option."

“Is this without risk or challenges? Absolutely not,” said Strohmaier. “But doing nothing is not an option. It was a heavy lift to get to this point, but it's emblematic of us trying something and of doing something. And I'm very proud that we are where we are today. We will be monitoring how this goes. We want to hear from the neighbors and the public."

Also on hand were Casey Gannon, Missoula County Shelter Coordinator; Bruce Bender, City Facility Consultant, and Emily Armstrong, City Reaching Home Manager.

The site will be open this month and campers will provide their own tents and shelters.

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