Dear Missoula County Board of Commissioners:
We write this letter to address the implications of Resolution No. 2012-__ “Prohibiting Camping and Structures on County Property Without a Permit,” proposed by the Missoula County Board of Commissioners (the said Resolution may be read in full at www.OccupyMissoula.com).
We understand the ramifications of this resolution to reach far beyond the current political moment of Occupy Missoula’s encampment on the courthouse lawn. While serving as a public sounding board for citizen dissatisfaction with our current political/economic conundrum, Occupy Missoula’s presence on the Courthouse lawn has also illuminated the symptoms of a society that does not take care of its most vulnerable: its veterans, its elderly, its mentally ill, its substance-addicted, and its houseless. While we recognize and value Missoula’s efforts to address this situation (as detailed in a letter from the County Commissioners on Dec. 16th), the resources of these largely non-profit efforts are already strained.
With home foreclosures still on the rise, Missoula’s increasing houseless population will find themselves at the sharp end of this resolution by virtue of their circumstance, which in effect would be criminalized. Sleeping, not just camping, in said areas becomes cause for a citation, thereby compounding a situation which is already intolerable. “Camping,” as broadly defined by this proposed ordinance, would incriminate not only those without houses, but many working poor, who often sleep in their vehicles in pursuit of temporary employment, as well as other populations, such as travelers passing through who could be cited with criminal trespass for pulling an RV off the road in Missoula county.
In fact, many public spaces that Missoulians take for granted would fall under it’s broad definitions, as county properties include: Missoula County Fairgrounds, portions of Fort Missoula, and the Commons of the County Courthouse Lawn.
Whereas hypothetical expenditures of public funds to mitigate the health hazards of camping on said properties are cited, very real and actual expenditures of public funds will be required to administer and enforce the proposed resolution.
Occupy Missoula’s encampment on the Courthouse lawn has, for nearly 3 months, vigilantly asserted a citizen’s right to peaceably assemble and our freedom of speech by demonstrating and promoting the peace and well-being of all who gather there. The proposed resolution is one more swipe in eroding public access to the commons. The common basis of freedom of speech and right to assembly, universal across the political spectrum, would be further truncated by this resolution.
OM strongly encourages the Commissioners and the general public as a whole to carefully consider the far-reaching consequences of the county’s proposed ordinance. It is vital that the public attend the upcoming public hearing on this matter, Wednesday, January 4th at 1:30PM in Room 201 of the Courthouse Annex.