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Homeless tent cities in Montana? Not SanFran or LA?

The homeless problem is highly complex and varies depending on location. In large cities, almost 50% of homeless can be mentally ill and/or substance abuse sufferers. The other elephant in the room is a crisis in housing prices. People are being forced onto the street because housing has literally doubled in cost since 2019. Addressing that issue is a critical component for reducing homelessness (not to mention providing a future for this nation's youth).

Solving the housing problem is going to be tough, but identifying the causes is fairly straightforward and ironically sprung from a bunch of bad decisions...shocker...made by our elected officials:

  • 2008 recession: There are too few tradespeople in this nation to build homes! Why, because our government gave mortgages to any idiot you could apply leading to the 2008 RE meltdown. Then they compounded the problem by rewriting mortgage legislation literally shutting down people's access to money to buy a home. No new homes meant carpenters, plumbers, electricians....thrown permanently out of work. These guys found a career elsewhere or retired. You can't find a plumber now when you need one.

  • Municipalities "not in my backyard" zoning. Around the country particularly in the North, local governments make it impossible to build by restricting zoning or imposing rent control which makes building rental units uneconomic.

  • High inflation means 7-8% mortgage rates. Not only have housing prices spiked, interest rates are through the roof. That doubles the cost of buying a home and drives up rents. How did we get here? How do you think? When our government is spending money we don't have and runs budget deficits something got to just did. Overspending and escalating gov debt directly causes interest rates to ramp.

How to fix this stuff? That's a tougher subject. One thing's for sure. It's easier for gov to break something than to fix it.

A Montana Town Faces a Homelessness Problem Similar to San Francisco and L.A.

Missoula’s parks are full of people in tents. Moving them is hampered by a court ruling that has frustrated many leaders in the American West.

Increasing numbers of homeless people pitch tents in Missoula, Mont., parks, frustrating town leaders and many local residents.

By Jim Carlton, WSJ

| Photographs by Ami Vitale for The Wall Street Journal

Sept. 2, 2023 9:00 am ET

MISSOULA, Mont.—This city boasts more than 400 acres of parks, many of which line the roaring Clark Fork River. Recently, they have become full of homeless people.

Some 600 people without homes live in the Northern Rockies college town, triple the number of a decade ago, many of them in tents in city parks. Their presence has sown growing anger among residents who say the parks have become dirty and unsafe.

Shannone Hart said a group of teens she works with saw homeless people fighting in a park and that she moved in June from a house near an encampment along the Clark Fork.

“Just the sheer litter and feces and garbage pollution that was going into the river was concerning,” Hart said.

Missoula has a law against camping in a park but can’t enforce it because of a 2018 ruling by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which prevents officials from removing anyone camping in a public space in its Western U.S. jurisdiction unless there is a shelter for them to move to. Missoula has less than half the beds that would be necessary to comply with the order, most of which are already being used.

The ruling has frustrated leaders of major cities across the West, including Portland, Ore., San Francisco and Los Angeles, where homeless encampments have proliferated in parks. Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom criticized the order in an interview Tuesday with the San Francisco Chronicle, calling it “preposterous” and “inhumane.”

The struggles of Missoula, population 78,000, show that the ruling also is affecting smaller cities, which also are coping with increased street homelessness driven by rising housing costs.

The average monthly cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Missoula is $1,195, up 50% from 2019, according to rental listings platform Zumper. Nationwide, the increase was 21%.

“All of a sudden people can’t afford it and they’re out,” said Chris Sage, who coordinates homelessness data in Montana for a nonprofit group. Homelessness has grown 62% in the state since 2019.

Missoula had 60 homeless encampments in parks as of late August, according to a city report. To address the problem without running afoul of the Ninth Circuit, the City Council passed an emergency ordinance in June making it easier to remove encampments from parks used by youth camps and other groups.

“We don’t want to lose control of the parks,” Missoula Mayor Jordan Hess said. Trees have been cut down and irrigation systems destroyed by homeless people, the Democrat said, and earlier this year, city workers removed about 100 pounds of rotting bacon from an encampment.

Since the ordinance went into effect, city crews have removed between eight and 10 of the most problematic homeless camps, but many of the people living in them have moved on to other parks, Hess said.

At a July meeting to make the emergency ordinance permanent, the measure was postponed amid complaints from homeless advocates that vulnerable people would suffer.

Jill Bonny, executive director of the Poverello Center, a homeless shelter with 135 beds, said the city should add a second permanent shelter and designate outdoor space for homeless camping. “When they don’t have a place to go, a park has grass, it has bathrooms, it has garbage cans and it has shade,” she said.

Hess said many in Missoula, a liberal college town in a heavily Republican state, are sensitive to such arguments and want to find a compromise.

The council by November hopes to pass a revised permanent ordinance that would restrict camping in places such as near waterways and give park managers tools to enforce rules on vandalism and littering. Later this month, Missoula is set to open the doors of a 165-bed shelter typically used only in the winter, to provide more space on a temporary basis.

But Hess said the city, which has allocated $2.5 million this fiscal year for homeless services in a $175 million municipal budget, needs state and federal help to solve the problem. “Everything we are going to do is triage,” he said, “and everything we do is going to be inadequate.”

Unlike the large encampments that have proliferated in some West Coast cities, Missoula’s homeless people largely live in small groups of tents tucked beneath trees.

Michael Lightcap, a disabled carpenter, is among more than 600 homeless people in Missoula, many of whom live in public parks.

Michael Lightcap, 63 years old, said he had been camping in a Missoula park since authorities confiscated his RV a year ago. A disabled carpenter, he said he can’t afford housing on his $800 monthly Social Security check, but doesn’t mind the outdoors lifestyle.

“It’s no big deal,” he said while walking past children in a park, where his tent was pitched overlooking the Clark Fork River. “You just get a little propane when it gets cold.”

Vickie Reynolds, a local nanny, said she avoids taking children to most parks now. “When they are new to walking, besides staying close to them, you have to be more aware of what’s ON the ground,” she wrote in a text message.

Mike Helmick said he returned in February to his hometown of Missoula after losing his job in Michigan. With no income besides food stamps, he ended up living in a tent with his wife, Jennifer.

“It’s very hard, no one tells you where to go for resources,” said Helmick, 26, as the couple sat in the shade and watched people bicycle past.

Helmick said he keeps his camp clean and recently chased off someone he saw trying to scale the fence of a nearby bicycle shop. “That’s what makes us homeless people look bad,” he said.

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