BOZEMAN — As the City of Bozeman gets ready to tackle the issue of urban camping, employees at one business say that they're ready for city leaders to do something about an encampment that continues to grow nearby. And they now say it's getting a little too close for comfort.
The employees we talked to in this story asked not to be identified due to safety concerns.
“I've been here almost five years. And yeah, we used to feel really safe because like I said, I'm here a lot of times in the dark and the girls leave in the dark, and it used to be a really safe place. And now we usually like either a man walk somebody out,” says Angie, an employee at the business.
Several employees who work at the office building on Oak and 11th say they are seeing more and more people committing crimes and using drugs at the encampment just feet from their office.
“On multiple occasions, we've had some of the campers just kind of wander through the offices, really with no intent. It's been alarming for me to hear from my coworkers who do not feel safe,” says Chad.
They say they’ve had to call Bozeman Police on several occasions.
“It's a little scary sometimes. You don't know what you're going to—what you're going to come to. But yes, the cops have been here numerous times and they know us well,” says Angie.
Bozeman Police Deputy Chief Andy Knight says the crime rate in the encampments is about the same as in the rest of the city.
“When we respond to crime, we're consistently doing it no matter where we're getting called to,” says Knight. “Even though it’s a big issue for us, our response really is the same. And we have men and women who are out there working each day.”
Knight does acknowledge that they are receiving calls from businesses located near the encampments and says regardless of whether or not city leaders pass the urban camping ordinance, which would limit camping on public right-of-ways to 5 nights, the police department plans to hire more officers to patrol the encampments full time.
“Calls from certain businesses that have the proximity to camping along near the business,” says Knight. “This will increase the capacity a lot and will actually put that role on some folks that might not need a police response because quite frankly, in some of these areas, they don't need a police response."
Back at the businesses, the employees are hopeful city leaders pass the urban camping ordinance next week.
“The city can do better. I think they can. I think that there's been enough concern brought up that this should be a priority,” says Chad.
The Bozeman City Commission will take up the urban camping ordinance next week on Tuesday at their meeting at 6 p.m. in City Hall.