Bozeman Revisits Camping in Right-of-Way Ordinance

Monday Sep. 18th, 2023

BOZEMAN, Montana (Sept. 18, 2023) – On Sept. 19, Bozeman City Commission will consider an ordinance that would regulate the time, place, and manner in which people can camp in the right-of-way. The item comes before the Commission after being continued during the Aug. 8 meeting due to the lateness of the hour. Since then, the draft ordinance has been reviewed by the Transportation Board and Economic Vitality Board. The goal of the proposed ordinance is to help the city better maintain its infrastructure and keep people safe, including those who are experiencing homelessness.

“One of the main things we have heard is concern around the time element which requires people to move to a different street after five days,” City Manager Jeff Mihelich stated. “This is a starting point that is meant to address the need to move vehicles regularly to properly sweep or plow the road, and we wrote the ordinance to be flexible on this based on individual circumstances. We hope all understand that we aim to be compassionate first as we look to manage impacts to our infrastructure.”

The proposed ordinance allows people to stay in the public right-of-way in a vehicle for up to five days if they are homeless and no other form of shelter is available. After five days, they must move to a different street. Additionally, people may not camp adjacent or across from a residence, park, school, or daycare, or within 100 feet of a business entrance. Other parts of the draft ordinance include that people must maintain clean and orderly spaces with no trash or personal items stored outside their vehicles.

In working with those who are experiencing homelessness, the City must comply with case law from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals including Martin v. City of Boise and Johnson v. City of Grants Pass. These cases recognize people experiencing homelessness have a constitutional right to keep themselves warm and dry while sleeping when there are no other forms of shelter available. The proposed regulations continue to protect this constitutional right, meaning people can and will be allowed to sleep in the right-of-way.

The city is implementing a tiered strategy to address houselessness. In the short term, staff are in the process of hiring Health and Safety Compliance Officers to help connect people to services and maintain a clean community. For the mid-and long-term, the city is working with HRDC to build a permanent shelter and working to increase the housing supply for people at every level.

Within the community, some residents have cited safety concerns around this population. However, recent reports from Bozeman Police have not shown a dramatic increase in overall crime. Additionally, some have called for a dedicated camping area for unhoused residents. The City has researched this option but has identified numerous issues. Those staying in the right-of-way cannot be forced to move to the campground and areas can be costly, from land value to hiring security to managing the site.

Those interested in more information on the city’s houselessness work can contact the City Manager’s office at 406-582-2306.