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Bozeman business owners demand city take more action to address urban camping in new lawsuit

“If a lawsuit is what needs to be done to bring a change, so be it,” said Dane Fletcher, owner of The Pitt Training Facility in Bozeman.
Posted at 11:24 AM, Oct 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-06 13:30:07-04

BOZEMAN — Six business owners in Bozeman say it’s time for the urban campers to pack it up and for city leaders to crack down on what’s being allowed. They’ve had enough and now, they filed a lawsuit.

"There’s been a lot of great change in Bozeman, more people, more diversity, but with growth, comes challenges and that’s what we’re facing,” said Donnie Olsson.

Olsson has lived in Bozeman since 1995. He’s a real estate broker and he takes pride in his office that sits off West Hemlock Street—next to several campers.

“It’s tough rolling into work some days,” said Olsson.

Looking out his window, Olsson has seen fights in the street, people walking around with guns, drug paraphernalia, and camper fires.

“Because of that, some people don’t want to come here,” said Olsson. “I’ve had a monetary effect on my income but I’m not looking to line my pockets with money. I’m looking for enforcement and I’d like to fill my offices back up.”

That’s why he chose to get involved in a complaint against the city alleging that Bozeman has failed to enforce its own laws when it comes to folks camped on the city’s streets.

Specifically, the lawsuit says the city is ignoring the following illegal activities: “loitering, disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, public inebriation, public urination and defecation, drug use, domestic violence and obstructing publicly owned rights of way.”

“I don’t know why they would create a new ordinance when they already don’t enforce current ordinances that are in place,” said Olsson.

On Sept. 19, the City Commission amended a proposed ordinance from a five-day limit in one place to 30 days. The potential fine was reduced from $100 to $25.

Another plaintiff involved in the lawsuit is the owner of The Pitt Training Facility, Dane Fletcher.

“People came in on both sides of the argument at the commission meeting and it fell on deaf ears,” said Fletcher.

Fletcher expressed his concern in the lawsuit about Chief Joseph Middle School students walking to his gym—and the long line of campers they walk by being a safety issue.

Many students stopped attending the fitness classes, according to Fletcher.

“If a lawsuit is what needs to be done to bring a change, so be it,” said Fletcher. “It’s astronomical what they’re doing. It’s beyond negligent and there’s no room for it.”

Filed by Bozeman attorneys, the lawsuit asks the court to order the city “to move the urban encampments from near the plaintiffs’ businesses to more suitable, safe and healthy locations.” Also, to “submit a detailed plan, with deadlines and action items, assuring the health, safety and security of all existing urban encampments on public lands or public streets.”

We’ve reached out to the city and they said their response will be publicly available once filed.

‘We’re not asking the world,” said Fletcher. “Everybody a part of this lawsuit is just trying to enforce what’s right.”

And Olsson agrees.

“In the future, I hope we see our city officials step up and create a solution that’s like a model for other cities that are experiencing this,” said Olsson.