Business Owners and City Councilors Sound Off on Homeless Camp
The TSOS (Temporary Safe Outdoor Space) recently constructed on private land just off Highway 93 South was the focal point of a meeting on Thursday morning in the meeting room at Stockman Bank.
Attending were representatives of the Hope Rescue Mission along with owners of nearby businesses that have been affected by the camp. Two Missoula City Councilors were also in attendance, Ward 4’s Jesse Ramos and Ward 5’s John Contos.
Bob McCue, owner of Eagle Mini-Storage acted as the facilitator, along with Realtor Diane Beck who published the meeting online via ZOOM.
Jim Hicks with the Hope Rescue Mission opened by addressing the group and apologizing for the speed in which the camp was built and opened without advising nearby businesses.
“First of all, I want to say thank you for this opportunity to share the path, the process, the vision, the flaws, the current status, and the goals for this temporary safe outdoor space,” said Hicks. “We understand our apology in connecting with you is late, and we do apologize for that lack of communication.”
Hicks went on to repeat the purpose of the TSOS, to provide a place for those who may be displaced from the now-illegal Reserve Street camp.
One of the business owners who appeared at the meeting was Noah Castle, owner of the Silver Slipper, located not far from the camp. Castle said his property taxes were increased by over 100 percent with the completion of the walking bridge over Reserve Street and of the bicycle and walking path from Missoula to Lolo.
The taxes went up, and then COVID 19 hit, and he had to close his business for several weeks.
Castle said he has had numerous problems with transients since the camp opened.
“The last three years I've had people trying to open up car doors in our parking lot, along with vandalism,” said Castle. “Drug use on our patio; people sleeping out underneath our canopy and in the back, and it's just gained and gained and gained, and they're doing all kinds of things that damage our place. In the meantime, we've already had a gentleman that didn't make it to the rest room the other day and it just destroyed the carpet in our hallway. We had to have it cleaned by a professional company.”
Businessman Mike Regan related a story over ZOOM in which a hair salon has had numerous problems with transients and mentally ill people.
“She said Mike, we've had so many encounters with homeless you wouldn't even believe it,” said Regan. “We've had people that come in try and use the restroom just like Noah’s business. They come in, they defecate. It's smeared all over the walls, they take showers in the sinks, and when they finally close it down due to COVID, these same transients would come in and they'd yell and scream at customers in the chairs and people sitting in the waiting room. One gentleman pulled down his pants, peed all over the floor, all over the hair products on the shelves. They yell and scream, bang against the windows and walk out. Another woman came in and pulled up her shirt in front of customers; harassed a family walking down the sidewalk, and to top it all off, she showed up one morning to open up the store and couldn’t get the key in the lock, because someone's stuck a in a hypodermic needle and as they were trying to pick the lock it broke off inside the lock.”
City Councilor Jesse Ramos commented on the disparity between how government treats the business community versus the homeless community.
“There's a level of inconsistency that the government shows between the business owners and the homeless population here in Missoula,” said Ramos. "We see right now that our business owners are greatly struggling during the COVID 19 pandemic and it seems like there's no direction; no answers; no efforts from their elected leaders or government officials to try and help these guys that are struggling, however, they'll bend over backwards in order to help these different groups, which is fine. Yes; bend over backwards, but please bend over backwards for the same business owners that are paying the taxes to pay your salary to make this all possible.”
The meeting brought to light the tension that exists between the sincere, well-meaning efforts of groups like the United Way and the Hope Rescue Mission to help the unhoused population and the problems faced by hard working merchants who are trying to follow all the rules to keep their businesses open and their employees working.
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