There will be more homeless persons looking for places to stay as spring and summer weather arrives, and the city and county have made it abundantly clear that urban camping is illegal.

The Missoula Police Department has been tasked with enforcing that ban, however, even though urban camping is illegal, it is not an ‘arrestable offense’.

Missoula Police Patrol Captain Jake Rosling spoke to KGVO News just after the announcement on Thursday that the Johnson Street Winter Shelter will be closing on April 18.

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“We put together an action plan to deal with some of the camps that inevitably pop up throughout the city and how to deal with those safely and efficiently,” said Captain Rosling. “We will try to assist those people that are camping either in their vehicles or in campers that are pulled off on into the public right away or just setting up tents on property around Missoula. We will try to get them to get them access to some of the different things that Missoula has to offer as far as resources go for people experiencing homelessness.”

Rosling reiterated that fact that urban camping is not an arrestable offense.

“Most of the laws that people are actually violating by camping in or on city property or camping in the right of way are city ordinance violations that are not arrestable,” he said. “I want to be clear that we don't want to arrest anybody for this stuff. And realistically, we can't.”

Captain Rosling said instead of arresting homeless persons, he and his officers do all they can to help them find resources that will assist them in finding shelter.

“We will occasionally write citations but you're right,” he said. “Compassion is the first thing we try to do, and by using some of the other city resources to point them in a direction to help them get housing or get some of the things they need. That's generally what our patrol officers are doing. You know, we repeatedly try to make contact with these people and get an idea of what their needs are and point them in the right direction.”

Rosling then repeated the fact that his officers are tasked with helping not only keeping the peace in Missoula neighborhoods, but also helping homeless persons find a safe place to stay.

“Arrest isn't an option generally, and citations are really a last resort because that doesn't do anything to help solve the problem,” he said. “So we're trying to try to do the best we can to help the people that are living in the neighborhoods where these camps or campers pop up, while also being compassionate and trying to help those people out and get the resources they need.”

Rosling encourages those who see homeless people beginning to set up camp in their neighborhood to click the ‘Engage Missoula’ link on the City of Missoula’s website and if the problem persists to call the police department at 552-6300.

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