Westside residents secured a first-round victory Monday night when the Missoula City Council voted unanimously to limit where homeless shelters and soup kitchens can setup shop.
"I definitely think that the Westside is very happy with the turn of events," says Elaine Hawk of pLAND Land Use Consulting, who spoke on behalf of neighborhood residents for more stringent regulations governing social services.
When the Union Gospel Mission announced last year that it intended to move from its current Toole Avenue location to the former Sweetheart Bakery site on West Broadway, Westsiders felt under siege. They worried about Union Gospel being situated a third of a mile from the Poverello Center homeless shelter's new location, and called on city officials to protect their neighborhood from the negative fallout that they say can come from clustering social services.
Westside Neighborhood Association member Toni Matlock told council on Monday that research from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Brookings Institution, among others, shows that housing such services in one district "cultivates an environment of segregation, greater crime, fear and poorer health and, in fact, greater poverty."
In response to those concerns, council approved changes to city zoning code that, if they again endorse the proposal later this month, will prohibit homeless shelters and soup kitchens from operating within a quarter mile of each other, 1,000 feet of a school and roughly one city block of a residential district. The residential buffer would permanently derail Union Gospel's plans to move into the Sweetheart Bakery site.
Among the most controversial provisions with council members was the one requiring shelters and soup kitchens to provide the city with a management plan detailing, for instance, how they intend to deal with alcohol and drug use. Councilman Mike O'Herron took particular exception to a requirement that they submit written strategies for engaging in dialogue with police, neighborhood representatives and local businesses.
"I'm kind of concerned about this being the only type of facility where that sort of neighborhood relations plan appears," he said.
O'Herron wasn't the only one who raised issues with the changes. Union Gospel Mission's Candace Day warned that dispersing services across town could have unintended consequences. "If you have no transportation to get to the help that you need, you ignore the problem," she said. "And the problem gets worse and the public pays for your problem..."
Council is scheduled to again vote on the proposal after a public hearing scheduled for Jan 27.