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Bozeman official describes urban camping patrol, enforcement since ordinance went into effect

“We’re looking at somewhere around 150 to 250 people that are out camping.”
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Posted at 6:28 PM, Apr 30, 2024

BOZEMAN — Ordinance 2147, which puts limitations on urban camping in Bozeman, went into effect in November 2023. Now it's almost May, so I spoke to the City of Bozeman's Neighborhood Services division to see how it’s been going.

“We’re looking at somewhere around 150 to 250 people that are out camping,” Benjamin Bailey tells me.

Bailey is the Neighborhood Services and Code Compliance program manager who has been enforcing the urban camping ordinance since it went into effect. He tells me the ordinance applies three restrictions on urban camping.

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“Time is 30 days. They have to move to a different named street every 30 days. And that's after they receive 3 warnings,” says Ben.

The other restrictions are place and manner. An urban camper cannot be within 100 feet of a business, or immediately adjacent to a residence, school, or park. They’re also required to keep their spaces in an orderly manner, which means no debris lying around. And they’re only allowed a generator, bicycle, and grill for cooking.

This is what Ben and two other neighborhood service patrollers are out checking every day.

“We’ve given hundreds of warnings and multiple citations since I've been here,” Ben says.

But what happens to these urban campers when they ignore their warnings and citations?

“We put a sticker on their camper saying you have 24 hours to vacate, or we’ll make it happen,” says Ben.

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When I asked if they’ve ever had to tow a camper, Ben told me, “ We’ve had to tow multiple campers before, whether they’re abandoned or in the wrong place”.

Ben tells me that although some urban campers can be difficult, most are willing to follow the ordinance. Out on the street, Ben says he tries to create relationships with urban campers so they don't only see him as an authority figure.

“A lot of them have my work cell number and they’ll text me. I got invited to a one-year-old’s birthday party last week. And that stuff, you put in that time and effort to get to know the people experiencing houselessness,” says Ben.