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Meeting to consider urban camping ordinance draws strong reactions on both sides from Bozeman citizens

Urban Camping City Hall.jpg
Posted at 6:45 AM, Sep 21, 2023

Weeks after Bozeman city leaders proposed an ordinance that would require campers parking on city streets to move every five days, the ordinance came back up for discussion on Tuesday night. Dozens of citizens, both for and against the ordinance, showed up to give public comment.

“So my point is, if I can have difficulty finding housing, of course there will be many who do not qualify for any housing,” said one Bozeman resident.

“I guess I'd like you to consider that this ordinance doesn't go nearly far enough in addressing the issues that we're facing,” says a resident in favor of the original ordinance.

Ultimately, city commissioners amended the ordinance to require that urban campers should move every 30 days.

“The commission amended that to 30 days. We think that's a reasonable timeframe,” says Bozeman City Manager Jeff Mihelich.

Many of those who showed up Tuesday night are living in campers on the streets. Much of the concern with those who were against the proposal was the proposed time limit of 5 days.

“I do not disagree that the city should implement rules and consequences for the campers. Being one myself, the situation has gotten a bit out of hand,” said an unhoused resident. “Extend the deadline significantly. Many of the campers are honest, hardworking people just trying to survive upon getting their life.”

Some business owners said an ordinance should have been passed long ago and the situation is affecting their business.

“These campers are next to my business. I host workouts, and I don’t feel safe having kids while these campers are out,” said Dane Fletcher, owner of The Pitt in Bozeman.

After a 4-0 vote and changes to the ordinance, HRDC’s Housing Director Bryan Guyer said this was not a victory for both sides.

“You know, we still have a community where our housing crisis is so acute that people are still sleeping on the street,” says Guyer. “I think that the city commission landed on a compromise and put people on every side of the issue, walked away from this meeting a little disappointed and a little pleased.”

The city manager says that city staff and city attorneys need more time to dial in the amendments. They expect to have the second reading of the ordinance in four weeks; if that passes, the ordinance will take effect 30 days after the second reading.