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Home » Rockies » Montana » Western Montana » Missoula » Missoula Pedestrian Ordinance May Increase Density of Sidewalk Sprawlers
Two men sit with their legs stretched across the sidewalk, backs against the green doorway near the Oxford Bar and Grill. A younger woman with a dog stands beside them. “So this is where they are sticking us,” says a man who identifies himself only as Joe, as chalk lines closed around him. Joe watches with a look of disgust on his face as a curious visitor uses a tape measure and chalk to identify the spaces that will remain available for sidewalk sprawlers once Missoula’s pedestrian interference ordinance takes effect on Thursday.

Missoula Pedestrian Ordinance May Increase Density of Sidewalk Sprawlers

Two men sit with their legs stretched across the sidewalk, backs against the green doorway near the Oxford Bar and Grill. A younger woman with a dog stands beside them.

“So this is where they are sticking us,” says a man who identifies himself only as Joe, as chalk lines closed around him.

Joe watches with a look of disgust on his face as a curious visitor uses a tape measure and chalk to identify the spaces that will remain available for sidewalk sprawlers once Missoula’s pedestrian interference ordinance takes effect on Thursday.

Joe, his friends, and their belongings, overflow the three feet of legal loitering space outlined between the Ox and the store next door.

The pedestrian interference ordinance was approved on Oct. 5. The ordinance itself does not expressly target homeless people but debate leading up to the vote pit downtown commercial interests against advocates for the homeless. The ordinance reflects the concerns of some business owners and employees that people hanging out on the sidewalks block access to storefronts and intimidate customers. Advocates for the homeless argued against a complete ban on sitting or sleeping on sidewalks as uncompassionate.

The ordinance prohibits sitting, lying or sleeping within 12 feet of any entrance to a downtown building. It also limits congregating in downtown streets and alleys. The offense will be considered a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of as much as $100.

Missoula police say they will be enforcing the ordinance mainly if they receive a complaint about specific people in a given space, which is how complaints have been handled in the past.
“It all depends. If we get a complaint from a business that someone is camping in their doorway we’ll enforce it,” says Missoula Police Sgt. Richard Stepper. “But if there is a large group, and I mean 10 to 15 people, in someone’s doorway we’ll enforce it,” even if no complaint has been made.


View Missoula Pedestrian Ordinance Sitting Space in a larger map

People on both sides of the issue say the ordinance might cause new problems while attempting to solve old ones. By concentrating more homeless people into less space, the ordinance may make it harder, not easier, for pedestrians to navigate Higgins.

The revised ordinance will cluster groups of people on street corners and in several 20- to 60-foot spaces in the middle of street blocks.

The ordinance reduces the space where people may congregate by almost two thirds on sidewalks between Main and Spruce Streets on the west side of Higgins Avenue. Once the rule takes effect, one third remains available –- 350 feet of free space -– of the almost 1,000 feet of concrete between those streets. Missoulians looking to lie, sit or sleep on the sidewalk will have to squeeze into those seven spaces. The distribution of space is typical, or even more generous, than other blocks downtown.

Toward the north end of Higgins, Alan Nielsen views the situation from behind the counter at Worden’s Market, where he has worked for almost eight years.

“Now you are giving them the right to congregate 12 feet from our door,” Neilsen says. “We’re not here to make life harder for these guys. We just don’t want them to make ours harder in the process.”

After the Ox, Worden’s is the second most popular spot for transients to congregate, Neilsen says.

“On this particular corner, the people are buying booze. We sell the beer they want after they get money,” he says, wondering aloud if people would give money to panhandlers if they knew the lions’ share was going to buy alcohol.

Neilsen says Worden’s handles things in their own “vigilante” style because they feel calling the police is a waste of everybody’s time. Instead, the store tries tactics like putting tables outside in the summer and calling it an “outdoor café,” making the sidewalk part of their business.

Now he worries that customers could be harassed and the store could have no grounds to move the homeless if they are past the boundary.

“We pay the rent on this corner, not them,” he says.

South of Worden’s at the corner of Higgins Plaza, Dennis Ellison sits on a green canvas duffel bag, listening to his radio. Above his head, a sign in the window reads, “No Loitering.”

“I’ve had a cop tell us to go to city hall. They’re trying to round us up,” says Dennis Ellison. “They want us all in one spot and we ain’t doing that.”

The homeless who hang out on Higgins Avenue know they are the target of the ordinance. They don’t like it, and they say they aren’t leaving.

“[We’ll sleep] in the alleyways, we don’t care,” says Joe, outside the Ox.

Further down Higgins, there are no warm feelings about the city council’s decision.

Ernest Twomoons, a homeless Native American, is outraged. Many of the people living on the Missoula’s streets are veterans or Native Americans. They, he says, have fought for their country or are native to it and should not have to fight for a piece of pavement.

“Once you run out of money, once you run out of everything, the only thing you got is the city,” he says. “You’ve got the sidewalks, and now they’re trying to take that from us too.”

Many supporters of the ordinance point to the corner of Spruce Street and Higgins as a problem area that attracts sidewalk sitters. The ordinance, however, is unlikely to change that. This popular piece of concrete is the largest permitted gathering space along the three city blocks. Once the 12 feet on each side of the door to Worden’s Market have been accounted for, some 62 feet remain available for sitting on the south side of the market.

This space could easily be the most comfortable and safest place for the homeless population to sleep on Higgins Avenue during the night. Not only is it lit, but it is covered along the length of Worden’s storefront and offers substantial shelter from the elements.

Heading south, toward the river, the block between Spruce and Pine Streets is the best bet for those who want to rest on the sidewalk. In that block there is 169 feet of space available for resting in six separate areas. Apart from the three feet on the corner near Sushi Hana and the 10 feet on the corner by Worden’s, there are 46 feet on the south side of the Higgins Plaza entrance and 32 feet on the north side. The 16 feet between the alley and parking lot entrance next to Worden’s is allowed under the ordinance.

The block between Pine Street and Broadway is the longest stretch of sidewalk with the shortest amount of space available for sitting – 83 feet divided into six small spaces. There are four feet on the corner of Broadway, 23 feet between an empty space for rent and the former Splash Kitchen and Bath, 12 feet between J Elaine’s and Specticca, 25 feet on the side of a parking lot, three feet next to the Oxford and six feet on the corner of Pine.

Between Broadway and Main Streets there is 99 feet of available space in five distinct spots: 38 feet on the corner of Main Street, 20 feet between the two doors of First National Bank, 22 feet between the alley and First National Bank, and 16 feet on the corner of Broadway Street. Between the various doors at Liquid Planet and Allegra Print and Imagery there is just two feet of space.

“There’s not even room to put one ass there,” says Abdullah Al-Jamea as he walks by the chalk-marked gap.

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Comments

  1. Mel says:

    This is great news. The bums are getting the message that Missoula is no longer their town.
    I think all of the storefronts should add MORE DOORS to their businesses…maybe a door every 12 feet so would be about right.

  2. Mel's intolerance says:

    Mel, your intolerance for the poor is exactly the kind of identity Missoula wants to project. Send those stinky bastards to the woods right? Only college kids who spend money in the bars should be allowed to piss, puke, fight and loiter on downtown sidewalks.

  3. Chuckles says:

    “We pay the rent on this corner, not them,” he says.

    …uh, excuse me? Last time I checked you don’t pay rent on the SIDEWALK.
    Mel- you disgust me. It would be divine justice if you found yourself homeless on a winter night. I hope you do.

  4. Mickey Garcia says:

    The city might consider setting up a homeless camp on the outskirts were sack meals and a little booze would be handed out daily. Social workers could visit and identify those people not too far gone to accept help getting of the street and into the social welfare system. The meals and the booze would attract them away from the downtown area.

  5. Mickey Garcia says:

    It could be funded by a partnership between private charities, city and county government.

  6. mitch says:

    Why would you contribute money to these people cluttering up the sidewalks and interferring with the local businessmen and shoppers. Why not walk down the streets they are obstructing and pass out cigarettes and booze? That’s where your money is going anyway. If you really want to help, contribute to your local homeless shelters and soup kitchens.

  7. milburnschmidt says:

    If the city has homeless shelters it seems fair to stop the practice of sleeping on sidewalks and making them move on or go to a shelter. Those who think its mean should offer their front yards and their own bathrooms to show how compassionate they are. Its a public health issue and quality of life also.

  8. Mickey Garcia says:

    In many urban areas around the country, the homeless won’t stay at shelters because these shelters are considered less safe than the streets. Use your head. If you’re going to pass out stuff to the homeless which is O.K., don’t pass it out on the street were the homeless are creating a nuisance and a negative business climate. And don’t locate soup kitchens or shelters there either. Its just like foreign policy. Its more effective to use the carrot together with the stick. Don’t reward them for being were you don’t want them.

  9. Horst says:

    Or perhaps we could do like Californians in the early twentieth century–and let the VFW and Legionaires handle the situation?

  10. Jed says:

    Advocates for the homeless argued against a complete ban on sitting or sleeping on sidewalks as uncompassionate.
    It occurs to me that a truly compassionate town would not relegate its indigenous population to sleeping on the sidewalk.
    But perhaps thats just me?

  11. Jed says:

    Sorry Chief.
    That must have been a Freudian slip. I meant indigent, I believe.

  12. mitch says:

    I think most acceptable shelters have rules. No drinking, no drugs, and they have a curfew. Also they must be out at a certain time of morning actually looking for work. Herein lies the problem with them. It easier to sprawl on the sidewalks and expect the citizens who actually contribute something to walk over/around them. The shelters are more for those who actually want to better their situation.

    If you are doling out money to those laying on a sidewalk, or harassing the would be customers and shop owners, you are contributing to the problem. Yes, their abuse problems, and also the problems they’ve created for society.

  13. Mel says:

    I have great compassion for the homeless but none for the Bums that choose laziness, drugs and booze and feel they are entitled to have others sponsor their poor choices. You are free to enable these bums although I believe it is the wrong message to send and in the end your enabling will probably help kill them.

  14. Mickey Garcia says:

    So what’s the most cost effective alternative for getting these unwelcome guests, bums, hobos, etc. off main street and sending them somewhere else? Bus Ticket out of town? More ordinances and police pressure? Shelter? Drug Rehab? Homeless Camp? Euthanasia? Mental Hospital? Prison? Religious Conversion? Rest assured that whatever you dream up, the taxpayer will foot the bill.

  15. mitch says:

    It is unfortunate the mentally handicapped, our veterans, and those who have become homeless due to a situation beyond their control are lumped together with the worthless bums who would rather hang out with their hand out. If they were not getting a handout from the well meaning public, or if they choose not to follow the rules of the homeless shelters, what alternative would they have? Move on down the road! Yes, more police pressure. A bus ticket out of town wouldn’t be a bad idea if there was someone on the other end of the line willing to take responsibility for them, and that should be understood before ticket is issued.

  16. Mel's intolerance says:

    That’s a funny line of reasoning Mel. Why? Because you don’t often see downtown businesses complaining about where tax dollars go when they’re tring to get a Tax Increment District passed to funnel tax dollars meant for the general fund into their own rennovations, now do you?

    They’ll lobby city council to pass these districts so they can squander tax dollars meant for improvements and services city-wide for enriching their own businesses. But then they’ll accuse homeless people of living off the system without having to work, just like Mel does. I think dollar by dollar, the downtown business owners suffocate far more of our general fund tax dollars through tax increment districts than the homeless will ever draw from social and welfare services.

    But then again, for Mel, money is always more important than basic human rights, so he probably wouldn’t even argue with this.

  17. Mickey Garcia says:

    Better be careful how you word your Homeless Ordinance. Google up:Homeless Residents Sue Boise Over Camping Law. Many other suits by homeless advocates are underway around the country.

  18. Mel says:

    I am actually a bleeding heart liberal and support both taxpayer funding and private donations to help the homeless, recovering alcoholics and drug addicts . I don’t support the professional street beggars that have the capability to help themselves but have instead chosen to get drunk and stoned on your dime.

  19. mitch says:

    well said, Mel!

  20. Mel's intolerance says:

    “I don’t support professional street beggars that have the capability to help themselves but have instead chosen to get drunk and stoned on your dime.”–Mel

    Again, Mel, you’re using an un-supported generalization about a group of people to justify a policy that targets them as individuals for being poor. Along with the downtown business owners and the wannabe policos that go to bat for them on council, you are dehumanizing these people to justify discriminating against them.

  21. Mel's intolerance says:

    P.S. Just to show you how off-the-mark this ordinance is, check out today’s story in the Helena IR about Montana’s streets and sidewalks being among the safest in the nation for pedestrians:

    http://www.helenair.com/news/state-and-regional/article_4a195a62-cdc3-11de-9540-001cc4c002e0.html

  22. Darbarian says:

    I’ll tell you sumthin… nothin like seeing all the self-righteous liberals up in Missoula being more hypocritical than the religious fanatics down here in teh root…

    Missoulians preach all this liberal-minded take care of the poor stuff, but then they’ll turn around and be the only city in the entire McCain-voting population in Montana to actually target poor homeless people with a local ordinance.

    That is just rich.

  23. Don Stamm says:

    Stuges,

    Dynamite story! I’m so proud! (I think I may have found one error; email me.

    Nice job!

    DS

  24. salvavida says:

    Generalizations are bad, observations are good. Take a walk down Higgins and observe first hand. These are not people (for the most part) actively seeking employment or help. They are however, actively seeking a buzz and/or attention. I went for a walk down by the river -right in the park- last week and stumbled into a bum’s nest, complete with a slumbering bum. If I had kids or were less capable of defending myself, I would be nervous about this situation. Most of these folks are not aggressive, but I bet many of have met some who are. I sure have, right in the Garden City. I say, offer help to those who will accept it, and bus tickets to those who will not. I like the Foreign Legion idea too.

  25. jedediah Redman says:

    Unless we see problems as symptoms there will be no solutions.
    Simply telling a segment of society they cannot do something is
    nothing more than incompetence.

  26. Mickey Garcia says:

    Your solution?

  27. mitch says:

    I have a solution. Stop giving them cash, and carry bear spray.

  28. Mickey Garcia says:

    Brilliant! Perfect! Pest Control!