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The Missoula police department is pushing for stricter laws that would make it easier for the city to regulate people who rest on, or otherwise obstruct, public walkways. In a Public Safety and Health committee meeting this morning, Police Chief Mark Muir answered questions about the necessity of a more explicit pedestrian obstruction ordinance, and its potential effect on homeless people and other citizens. Muir began the discussion by claiming that the ordinance was, in part, designed to protect people who were found sleeping on the street. “We’re kidding ourselves if we think that a sidewalk is a safe place to lie,” said Muir. He cited recent cases where street people were abused or robbed while sleeping outdoors. But several city council members voiced opposition to the proposed ordinance, saying, among other things, that it seemed unnecessary and wrongly singled out and attacked one segment of the population over others.

Missoula Considers New Law Against Street Sleeping

The Missoula police department is pushing for stricter laws that would make it easier for the city to regulate people who rest on, or otherwise obstruct, public walkways.

In a Public Safety and Health committee meeting this morning, Police Chief Mark Muir answered questions about the necessity of a more explicit pedestrian obstruction ordinance, and its potential effect on homeless people and other citizens.

Muir began the discussion by claiming that the ordinance was, in part, designed to protect people who were found sleeping on the street.

“We’re kidding ourselves if we think that a sidewalk is a safe place to lie,” said Muir. He cited recent cases where street people were abused or robbed while sleeping outdoors.

But several city council members voiced opposition to the proposed ordinance, saying, among other things, that it seemed unnecessary and wrongly singled out and attacked one segment of the population over others.

“The real issue,” said council member Bob Jaffe, “is the need to move people along because the downtown business community is afraid these people are scaring off their customers.”

If police already have the responsibility and authority to keep people safe, asked Jaffe, why do they need another law that prohibits sleeping on the sidewalk?

“I take exception to the idea that we would propose an ordinance that allows us to legally harass certain people,” responded Muir. However, he agreed that the ordinance was less about keeping homeless people safe, which police are already authorized to do, and more about giving officers the authority to wake up street people, question them and require them to move along without risking charges of harassment.

“I will say that the focus has shifted from the beginning of this process,” said Muir. “I’m here to tell you that we are unable to remove people who are obstructing a passage. But I agree that this has gotten distorted — it’s not strictly about community care. The goal of this ordinance is to make downtown — our entire community — a better place.”

Ellie Boldman Hill, executive director of the Poverello Center, a non-profit shelter providing essential services to struggling Missoulians, said people who sleep on sidewalks are generally people with various forms of mental illnesses and addiction problems.

“I would say they’re sleeping downtown because they’re under the influence, but it’s really the mental illness that explains why they’re on the sidewalk,” said Hill. “They’re not choosing that. They have nowhere else to go.”

Council member Ed Childers lamented the lack of better solutions to the problem. “Our society expects everybody to have a place and a reason for being there,” he said. “Homeless people don’t have a place in our society, and we have no solution for that.”

The committee will continue to debate the proposed ordinance next week.

About Travis Koch

Comments

  1. Helena says:

    Let’s have a sleep-in on Bob Jaffe’ sidewalk if he doesn’t think it’s much of a problem.

  2. george sarsfield says:

    we all need a place to sleep at some point. ha

  3. Mickey Garcia says:

    Let’s define sleeping in public as obscene. Then we can put people, including politicians and public officials, who fall asleep at public meetings, in jail for awhile.

  4. Downtown resident of 30 years says:

    I have lived downtown for many years and watched the shifting landscape both in retail buisness as well as tolerance of people living on the street. I have never seen it as bad as it is today with the loitering, blocking, panhandling, in some cases aggressive.
    I regularly come across people defecating in open public broad daylight situations. I have had to defend my person and those with me from confrontational agressive behavior. I wonder who would be charged if I had to resort to physically defending my person. It does not matter if they are users or mental, our downtown is suffering from the lack of enforcement, and Missoula has gained a reputation because of it.
    Compassion yes, but another area like the courthouse lawn, should suffice for napping in the day. Street performers are a legitimate form of offering service/entertainment, but people and dogs blocking the sidewalks beating their instruments and shouting something or another,while tripping over their mastiff dogs, should not be acceptable to anyone who like to see downtown thrive. We have a unique town and it is being ruined by lack of enforcement of laws already in place. Move them out!

  5. Mickey Garcia says:

    Maybe bumulove is Jesus come to test us to see if we’re worthy of Heaven. Missoula has always been the most liberal town in Montana but neither liberals nor reactionaries have quite figured out how to deal effectively and humanely with homeless nuisances like bumuluv.

  6. Mel says:

    30 year vet is right on. I have tried to keep up our support of the small local businesses downtown but aftger a long hard day at work how much disgusting filth should we be forced to tolerate?
    Last night , the latest Downtown experience for me was watching the filthy foursome of stoned out beggar 20 year olds hover over our table waiting to scavenge our leftovers….and this was inside the shop.
    These professional bums had a pretty good scam going,… to be as disgustingly filthy and stinking as you can in the local sandwich shop, leer at us with predator eyes until we are grossed out and so uncomfortable that we leave….then they move in for the scraps. This is Jaffe’s and Wiener’s and Rye’s Missoula.

  7. TLI says:

    I find it ridiculous that the police are so eager to move people along that are sleeping in the parking lot…but what happens when you see a $100K RV parked in the Wal-Mart parking lot? The people that park there are fat, old, retired, and have plenty of money to go to a campground. But instead, because of the above stereotypes I’ve already assigned them, they choose to mooch space in a retail parking lot – and even though there are signs at each entrance explicity stating that camping is against City ordinance, nothing is done about it. In fact, I have seen people getting in trouble from Wal-Mart staff for “harassing” the parking lot patrons in their RV’s at night. Why aren’t Missoula City Police doing something about THAT problem? It’s breaking the law, isn’t it? So why are the police more eager to bust people for sleeping in the warmest spot they can find than for enforcing actual laws that are already in place?

  8. See it like it is says:

    Councilman Bob Jaffe’s quote in this story sums up the entire push to ban homelessness:

    “The real issue,” said council member Bob Jaffe, “is the need to move people along because the downtown business community is afraid these people are scaring off their customers.”

  9. Jim Lang says:

    A ban on pedestrian interference is eminently sensible. The problem is, as illustrated by the picture that accompanies this story, a ban on sleeping bans behavior that doesn’t interfere with anyone.

  10. Mickey Garcia says:

    1976, the last year I attended U.M., I lived in my pickup and camper combo. Occasionally I would park my rig on campus for the night and occasionally I was harassed by campus security. I was clean shaven, had short hair, didn’t stink and didn’t poop in the street and was a vet who spent some of the sixties in Vietnam when the flower children were raising hell back home. I believe I told the campus dick to Bleep off once or twice. There’s so much b.s. flying around about what should be done with the homeless that it hard to tell what works and what doesn’t. What I think is true about the homeless: 1.Most of the hardcore, permanent homeless have drug and mental problems. 2.Financial responsibility for the homeless in America should not fall solely on the municipalities or the business districts where they choose to congregate. Its every American’s problem. 3. Its O.K. to move the homeless because some of them do become aggressive and obnoxious as long as you have some place to move them to. 4. More and more Americans are becoming homeless and can only afford to live in their cars, vans, shopping karts, tents and campers. So maybe we ought to build infrastructure to deal with this level of existence making it more humane and safe for the homeless. And making them less of a nuisance to the people who are not in their situation.

  11. Dave Skinner says:

    Shipping containers.
    Lots of those on stand-by.
    You can hose them out and they are hard to burn.

  12. Mickey Garcia says:

    Some architects have designed some cheap affordable housing out of shipping containers.

  13. Mtner says:

    “I find it ridiculous that the police are so eager to move people along that are sleeping in the parking lot…but what happens when you see a $100K RV parked in the Wal-Mart parking lot? The people that park there are fat, old, retired, and have plenty of money”….

    Yup, regular liberal…. I guess people that WORKED all their lives should not own an RV…. Afterall, they are “fat, old, retired, and have plenty of money”….

    I acually made the mistake of camping at the Walmart parking lot in Missoula…. (And let me assure you that my RV is valued at closer to $1,000, than it is at $100,000) Two weeks ago…. I have never been more scared while camping ANYWHERE! About 7:00 pm beat up old cars start rolling in. (Some with no windows). These people are EXTREMELY agressive! Panhandling, outright asking for drugs, they basicly just take this parking lot over as “their” “turf”…. But the first question each and everyone of them asks is the same…. “Do you smoke?” (Meaning Meth)…. This was actually, after camping for more than 40 years, the first time that I slept with a weapon handy. If YOU do not think that Missoula (opps, ugly truth coming) has a problem with these people, than perhaps it is not them who has the problem….

    …..” and even though there are signs at each entrance explicity stating that camping is against City ordinance, nothing is done about it. In fact, I have seen people getting in trouble from Wal-Mart staff for “harassing” the parking lot patrons in their RV’s at night. Why aren’t Missoula City Police doing something about THAT problem? It’s breaking the law, isn’t it?”….

    Umm, did it ever dawn on you, that Walmart is a PRIVATELY owned company? They OWN the parking lot! If you want to let people camp at your house (on private property) the city should have the power to stop you???? The city of Missoula can enact any “ordinance”! they want, but that has zero LEGAL VALUE on private property!

    Some people are part of the problem, not part of the solution….

  14. Bill Weston says:

    Missoula seems a bit cold to be sleeping outside!