Montana grapples with homelessness

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Homelessness isn’t a problem only plaguing large cities like Los Angeles or New York. The issue exists even in largely rural states like Montana associated with the great outdoors and expansive wilderness.

The Wall Street Journal recently profiled Missoula, a college city of nearly 77,000, and how officials are grappling with a rising population of unhoused individuals.

Approximately 644 people there are experiencing homelessness, according to data from the city. Homelessness has grown 62% in Montana overall since 2019, the Journal reported.

U.S. Census data shows that the median household income in Missoula is about $54,000, with 16% of the city living in poverty.

The city is working to solve the problem of what it calls “urban campers,” or people who sleep in parks or on trails, the Montana Free Press reported.

The influx of people who are homeless has become so severe that Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess announced a state of emergency in June.

Missoula allocated $2.5 million of its annual budget to address the issue and find solutions, the mayor told the Journal, but said state and federal funding are also needed to overcome the issue.

The City Council voted to close parks, trail and conservation lands to overnight camping in an attempt to curtail the problem. There were 60 encampments in parks in late August, the city shared in an update on urban camping.

The emergency declaration enabled the city to allocate emergency funds to reopen a shelter, KPAX reported. Anemergency winter shelter serving 800 people closed in April, leaving many with nowhere to go.

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The Council Council is also hosting open houses to address community questions.

“Houselessness is complex, and achieving meaningful outcomes requires a creative, multi-faceted approach,” the city said in a statement.

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