Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - At a Wednesday press conference on the Missoula County Courthouse steps, several Missoula city and county officials and community leaders provided an update on the current state of homelessness in Missoula, now that the Emergency Winter Shelter has officially closed.

City of Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess kicked off the gathering by giving a ‘state of the community’ message on homelessness in Missoula.

City and County Officials provided an Update on Homelessness in Missoula

“We're here today to talk about what is a serious issue in our community that we wish we didn't have to talk about, and that is people living in public spaces in our community, in tents in vehicles, camping, where they're not welcome,” began Mayor Hess. “They are camping because they have nowhere else to go. The reality is that we do not have enough indoor shelter in our community for everybody. When our emergency winter shelter closed on April 10, there were 80 people sleeping there that last night. We have had well over 100 people staying at the emergency winter shelter throughout the entire winter, and that demand persisted until the very last day that the shelter was open April 10.”

County Commissioner Josh Slotnick explained the two extremes representing the attitudes of Missoula County residents regarding homelessness.

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Commissioner Expressed Two Extremes on the Homeless Issue

“On the one hand, we have the question: ‘How can we allow our brothers and sisters to live in squalor in the richest country in the world?’ At the other end? ‘I want that person gone there in front of my house or business and are threatening my safety’,’ said Slotnick. “All of us at some point, fall into that spectrum. I'm bringing this up because the answer to all the concerns along that spectrum, the answer is the same. We need to have places for people to be in Missoula.”

Missoula Police Department Detective Captain Jake Rosling spoke on the law enforcement aspect of dealing with homelessness.

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“We have encouraged our officers to try to frequently make contact with those that are unhoused and sleeping on the streets, or sleeping on the sidewalks, encouraging them to keep their areas clean, and to move their camps frequently,” said Captain Rosling.  “Obviously, if you see criminal activity you need to call 9-1-1. But, like was stated earlier, there are online ways to report this behavior. We did come up with an incident action plan to deal with the larger urban camps that people will see popping up here and there.”

Addressing a question involving the fact that official funding for many of the services for homeless people will end at the end of the fiscal year in June, Mayor Hess said the city and county are kept from providing more funding due to restraints enacted by the state legislature.

“We have a structural funding problem at the city of Missoula,” said Mayor Hess. “This is a structural revenue issue where our property taxes are capped at the state level at one-half the rate of inflation. So we have a large hole to fill based on the fact that costs increase at an inflationary rate and our ability to fund the government as our authority to spend money increases at only half the inflationary rate.”

Also addressing the media at the event were representatives from the city, the county, the Poverello Center, and the Hope Rescue Mission.

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