Missoula Changes Law on Panhandling - ABC FOX MONTANA NEWS, WEATHER, SPORTS - KTMF/KWYB

Missoula Changes Law on Panhandling

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MISSOULA -

It's now illegal for a person to sit, lie or sleep within 20 feet of building fronts in downtown Missoula.

City Council members passed changes to the city law during a late-night session Monday.

City council members said the changes were approved because of an increase in negative-- or even dangerous interactions between business owners and homeless people.

But, some said homeless people living on the streets now have nowhere else to go.

"Hopefully, it doesn't ruin things for everybody," said Mike Stillings who has lived at the Poverello Center for about a month.

Stillings said he understands the new law is meant to keep people safe from aggressive homeless people downtown.

"The guys that are having problems with alcohol, passing out in front of the businesses."

But, Stillings said he worries it'll force those men and women to overload the Poverello Center.

"I know you see it all the time, and some of them get hauled off to jail," Stillings said.

The law now makes it illegal for a person to sit, lie, sleep or solicit within 20 feet of an entrance to a building or pedestrian footbridge or tunnel between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.

The previous distance was six feet.

"Unfortunately the bad behavior of a few is ruining it for the many tourists, business owners and residents downtown," said Councilwoman Caitlin Copple.

She said her pregnant coworker was once chased down a Missoula street by a drunk homeless man.

It's those types of incidents that led city leaders to lengthen the distance people can be to high pedestrian traffic downtown.

"So, I do feel like it is a really big problem and I really want our downtown to be a vibrant place where everybody can coexist," she said.

But, Poverello Center Executive Director Eran Fowler-Pehan said it's difficult to find an appropriate place for homeless people battling addiction.

"I think that the ordinance will only be as effective as we as a community can provide people alternative places to go," Fowler-Pehan said.

Fowler-Pehan said one cost-effective option is to construct what's known as "wet" or "low-threshold" housing.

"Places that can serve chronically homeless individuals that are still struggling with addiction," she explained.

Police will only give verbal warnings for violations during the first 90 days of the new ordinance.

After the warning period, it's up to a judge to decide punishment for violators.

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