Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - With tent camps springing up all over Missoula’s parks and open spaces, there have been numerous complaints by Missoula residents about trash piling up, human waste, and other health threats to the public.

KGVO News reached out to Shannon Therriault, Director of Environmental Health with the Missoula City-County Health Department about what they can do in regards to urban camping.

Therriault said the agency’s response is primarily complaint-driven.

The Health Department's Role in Responding to Urban Camping

“When somebody complains about garbage or solid waste, or human waste building up, traditionally what we've done is we've alerted the occupants to the rules, let them know what their responsibilities are, and then let the property owner know that they have responsibility for their property,” began Therriault. “Then of course, that includes encouraging and monitoring and requiring the cleanup. However, this kind of traditional approach to complaint response really doesn't work well for urban camping situations.”

Therriault said the health department and other agencies are hard-pressed to stem the tide presented by urban campers.

City and County Resources are Stretched to the Limit with Urban Camping

“Urban campers typically, really have very few resources and a lot of challenges,” she said. “So as you might have thought, we just have very little success when we're trying to address garbage or human waste on the ground or leaking RVs when we're trying to address it to somebody (an urban camper) who's in that situation.”

Therriault said the health department does not have the staff or the equipment to clean up these campsites by themselves.

“The biggest issue is that the health department really doesn't do cleanup of sites, that's not something that we have the resources for or the people for,” she said. “And so what our role has been is to get somebody else, such as the person who's responsible for cleaning up the site, and as I was talking earlier, that can be very challenging.”

Therriault Points out that Urban Camping is a National Issue

Therriault said the health department is doing its best to respond locally to what is rapidly becoming a national problem.

“When we are dealing with say a camper in the city right of way, what we have done is just a try to address it with the person to say, ‘what you can't do is pile garbage on the ground. And what you can't do is let your wastewater tank drip’, and there might be ways that they can try to fix those things. There are people who can do urban camping successfully, but it's definitely a challenge and it's a hard line to walk.”

To report urban campers who are not properly policing their site, click on the city of Missoula’s website.

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