MISSOULA, Mont. – The Missoula City-County Health Department deemed the encampment outside the Poverello Center homeless shelter, a public health risk and the area has been cleared.
Safety and sanitation concerns including urine, vomit, and feces prompted the health department to request the camp be dispersed last Friday.
"The current conditions have become unsanitary and pose a risk to public health and the environment," reads a memo from Jeanna Miller, RS, MPH, Missoula City-County Health Department, Environmental Health.
The memo goes on to say: "There is inadequate solid waste management. The accumulating solid waste is both a health risk and a safety/fire hazard. Garbage can attract insects, rodents, and other vectors, creating conditions that can easily spread infectious disease to those in and outside of the encampment. Improperly discarded needles present a physical hazard, as well as a serious biological hazard. Further, trash and other items that are not properly contained can easy blow around, creating a widespread litter problem. In addition to the obvious aesthetic issues associated with litter, this trash can end up in our storm drainage system and in our valued waterways."
On Monday and Tuesday, the Missoula Police Department and other community resources cleared the area on Cedar Street behind the Pov.
Many people were set up with other resources including the Missoula Housing Authority and the YWCA shelter.
The City of Missoula continues to work with community partners on a designated camping site and the emergency winter shelter plan.
There will likely be individual tents set up around town while additional resources are established.
"I understand that homelessness and urban camping are the manifestations of a larger, complex set of circumstances. I also understand that requiring this current encampment to disperse is not a long-term elimination of the potential public health risks. However, the size, density, and current conditions at this encampment have resulted in an unacceptable health risk, not only to the current campers, but also to the social workers and law enforcement officers who interact with the campers and the site, the business/property owners in the vicinity, and to the community as a whole. Thank you for your proactive efforts to address the current issues at this location, as well as your long-term planning surrounding the issue of homelessness and urban camping in our community," reads the memo from Miller.
The Poverello Center continues to deal with capacity issues created by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Last week, the shelter said it was facing it highest number of positive cases since the pandemic started.
The center continues to work on getting more people vaccinated against the virus.
The Pov is working with the city and county finalize a winter shelter location that is expected to open by November 1.
The city is also continuing to work on the authorized camping site near the wastewater treatment facility.
"We're doing our best through trial and, sometimes, error," Missoula Mayor John Engen said. "Mostly, I think, successfully, we'll be able to make sure that people have a safe, decent place to be."
Right now, the city is working to create sanitary living conditions for the campsite and add security to both the winter shelter and campsite.
The mayor predicted the campsite will open around the same time as the winter shelter in November.