It’s a sensitive topic to discuss, but as Bozeman continues to grow along with rising housing costs, urban camping is also increasing. Residents who have been unable to secure housing have turned to living in their campers, cars, or tents on vacant city streets such as Wheat Drive and Patrick Streets.
Solutions to the problem are not easy and involve both time and money. But, as Chamber CEO Daryl Schliem explained, “An emotional decision is not going to be long-lasting. It may seem calloused or insensitive to talk about this, but we need a long-term plan. Left undiscussed, it will get worse.”
As such, a committee made up of representatives from the Bozeman Police, City of Bozeman, Gallatin County, Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce, Human Resource Development Council (HRDC), plus several hotels and chamber business members are working together to address the issue and formulate long-term solutions.
One barrier to solving the problem comes from Bozeman not having an emergency shelter open all year. There is hesitancy to cite people for sleeping in public based on a recent ruling in Boise, Idaho, which will not allow citations if emergency shelters are not available day and night. Bozeman’s current shelter is only open at night from November 1 through March 31.
Currently, HRDC plans to build a new complex that would house the Gallatin Valley Food Bank. Phase II is slated to have an emergency shelter open 24/7 all year. However, more funding was needed for the complex, leading the committee to brainstorm solutions.
“The committee is working with city and county leadership to expedite the building of the warming shelter,” Schliem said. “As of now, we have verbal commitments and the willingness of the county to federal funds from the American Rescue Plan of 2021 to fulfill the shortfall in the current fundraising.”
In the meantime, the committee is negotiating with the City of Bozeman to open the current shelter full-time until the new shelter can be completed in 18-24 months.
“The committee recognizes that people fall on bad times; that is not the element that the committee is addressing,” Schliem says. “We know that we have families living in urban campers, providing a workforce to the economy. Still, we also have a lot of urban campers taking advantage of the fact that the police can’t write tickets, and therefore they are trespassing. Although the committee is addressing both, we want to make sure we are providing shelter for those who have fallen on hard times and contributing to the economy. Once we have a year-round shelter, enforcement can happen for those who are abusing it.”
The committee recognizes that mental health is part of the discussion and building the emergency shelter is just one step in affordable housing.
“We have a lot of work to do to get people on their feet,” Schliem says, “but a shelter will help maintain the safety of the community while taking care of individuals and families who have fallen on hard luck and are contributing to the community.”