After narrowly approving an ordinance that made sleeping in a vehicle on city streets a civil infraction last fall, the Kalispell City Council revisited the issue at a Feb. 24 public work session, but no action was taken.
Councilor Ryan Hunter of Ward 3 called attention to the ordinance, which has drawn opposition from nonprofit groups worried about its negative impact on the homeless population.
Although the council approved the ordinance with a 5-4 vote in September, Councilor Hunter and Councilor Sid Daoud of Ward 4, who both began their first term in January, favor a repeal but failed to persuade the council to reconsider the motor vehicle lodging ordinance.
Hunter argued the ordinance has already forced homeless individuals out of Kalispell, leaving them with fewer resources.
“It’s already been observed by the service community that homeless (people) in vehicles have left the city due to fear of this ordinance, and service providers are having a hard time locating them to provide them services,” Hunter said.
Following a recent citation involving a motor vehicle lodger who also had outstanding warrants, Hunter argued that the ordinance provides additional barriers for individuals committing poverty crimes, which include lack of car insurance or registration citations. Police Chief Doug Overman emphasized that this particular case was “nothing unusual,” and similar cases occur regularly.
The ordinance, which stemmed from public complaints over tourists sleeping in campers and vans on Kalispell’s city streets, gives the Kalispell Police Department authorization to investigate and issue civil infractions to violators.
Last fall, councilors cited concerns of public safety, including high vehicle density, blocking public right of way and sanitation issues from sewage dumping due to motor vehicle lodging.
Councilor Daoud supported Hunter’s argument while calling the infraction a “redundancy of public safety.”
“I believe that this is premature and we don’t have the data to support it, and as a believer in small government, I can’t believe how you can support this,” Daoud said.
While Mayor Johnson agreed that homelessness is an issue that needs to be addressed, he failed to see its connection with motor vehicle lodging and suggested addressing other issues including lack of services and affordable housing.
“I hear what you guys are saying … I’d rather say, ‘Where do we move forward?’ To me, there isn’t enough to tell me we need to repeal this or even bring it up at the next council,” Johnson said.
During public comment at the Feb. 24 work session, six individuals, including those from nonprofit organizations and community members, expressed disappointment with the council’s decision while one person supported the ordinance.
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