Missoula Law Enforcement Can Remove Homeless Campers
In interviews with Montana Department of Transportation Division Administrator Bob Vosen and Missoula County Commissioner Josh Slotnick, KGVO News has learned the true purpose of the recent ‘court action’ over the Reserve Street Bridge homeless camp.
County Commissioner Josh Slotnick offered to correct the statement by many media sources that the MDT had ‘sued the county’ over the camp.
“MDT did not sue us,” began Slotnick. “Instead, they sought permission from the state government to enforce trespassing laws on homeless people who are camping on their land, and this is actually welcomed by us. We want our deputies to be able to enforce the law. There was a court decision in Boise a few years ago, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that set basically said you can't enforce trespassing on a person camping on public land illegally if there is no place for them to be. So we took that quite literally and have created places for people to be and now we would like to be able to do some enforcement.”
Vosen echoed that sentiment in that the MDT’s goal is to protect the sensitive ecosystem in the Reserve Street Bridge area.
“So MDTs goal has never been to make it illegal to be homeless. Our concern is the protection and safety of the infrastructure,” said Vosen. “I think that is also for the protection of the natural resource in the area, the Clark Fork River and trying to keep it from being contaminated.”
Vosen also maintained that the court action is purely for clarification of the authority to remove homeless persons from the area.
“This lawsuit, if you will, that's been filed by MDT is to bring clarity and an understanding of what law enforcement can and can't do and what MDT can and can't do as far as removal of personal property from the area,” he said. “Can we have the enforcement of the trespass laws?”
This reporter engaged Commissioner Slotnick in a two-way conversation about the purpose of the ‘court action’.
“This court action will enable you the deputies to say ‘okay, we have the legal authority to say, John Smith and Joe Jones. We are going to remove you from this area. We'll be happy to help you pack up your stuff. But we're going to take you (away from the camp) and then we're going to repair the fence and not let you back in. Is that right?" asked Peter Christian. “Correct. You got it. That is correct," said Slotnick.
Attached, see the court action filed recently by the Montana Department of Transportation against Missoula County.